If there’s one thing I will always be proud of it’s this post.
Not the sub-par photo manipulation skills, but the perfect combination of Greek mythology and utter boredom that created the nickname Atlas Vanek. I’m not one to demand recognition for an achievement, but that’s a nickname that has floated around for over three years now and I can’t help but smile when people use it without being provoked.
My affinity for Vanek and his game has been pretty well documented on this site. I’ve written about his hat tricks as often as when he’s struggling, and my thoughts on the Austrian haven’t changed all that much. If anything, the last three years have only intensified my focus.
At a certain point my thoughts about Vanek seem to overcompensate for any under-appreciation left out there. Are there really people out there who dog his skating or his contract or work ethic? Really? Do they know that David Hasselhoff tore down the Berlin Wall and they can go buy Nikes at the outlet mall these days?
Thomas Vanek is not a superstar. He lacks the flash and style necessary to hold that title. Vanek is different, an unknown substance we struggle to quantify; and that is what really makes him great.
Yes, he is great. This is non-negotiable at this point. Watch him play and, if you don’t see it, look closer. Look again and again until it finally clicks. Perfection doesn’t make greatness, but maybe in this case it’s the deception of the ordinary.
We are three years into Vanek’s Atlas Phase, three years filled with extended periods of Vanek’s greatness. Dominating games, struggling through near misses and carrying a struggling team game after game. The expletives and slamming his stick on the bench were there, but those periods were bookended with outbursts too brilliant to be a product of mere chance.
I wonder if this is the game we can finally stop talking about what Thomas Vanek isn’t and focus on what Vanek is. If not now, when? What more does Vanek have to do to make fans realize his place among the pantheon? He is not a pure goal scorer or sniper like Mogilny. He never will be.
He is new, something else entirely. Working a half-dozen moves ahead on the chess board as he skates through the neutral zone. A deft pair of hands waiting to catch the fly with chopsticks near the netmouth. The momentum that builds within when things are going right, the knowing that it’s only a matter of time.
There is no discussion of “Vanek for captain” because, at this point, what is left to discuss? He’s the best forward on the team by far. He has earned the respect of his teammates and worked hard to improve every aspect of his game. He is a complete hockey player that is leading the way in this playoff race the way he has led this team since we first started mentioning his name alongside the literal titans.
Games like that remind you just how good Thomas Vanek can be. It’s a feeling that won’t last forever, but just this once I want the hyperbole to hang around for a while. For so long Vanek has struggled with his own existence that the moments when it all works you need to stop and admire it all. The Buffalo Sabres don’t always need a titan, someone to lift the team on its shoulders and keep the universe in order.
What they need is to simply know that he’s there. For him to understand who he is. The ancients believed in myth because they didn’t have any other way to explain the way the world works. Something has to cause the thunder and rain and keep the heavens where they belong. That answer needs a name, a face and a story.
Modern man doesn’t have such problems, Sabres fans included on days like this.