Rookie sniper boosts Amerks

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:15 AM ET

Thomas Vanek was hoping to make his first appearance in the American Hockey League North Division final a memorable one.

Instead, the Rochester Americans rookie finished the game in the trainer's room after receiving a stiff open-ice hit from Manitoba Moose defenceman Kevin Bieksa.

Vanek, selected fifth overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2003 NHL entry draft, is coming off an outstanding rookie season that saw him score 42 goals and 68 points in 74 games for the Americans.

Vanek had one shot on goal and was plus-one before getting his helmet knocked off in the neutral zone by Bieksa late in the second period. He didn't come out for the third.

'MAKE OR BREAK A GAME'

"It's big, any time you put him in the lineup and anytime he's on the ice he's a threat," said Americans captain Chris Taylor. "He's one element of our team we missed. There are guys who stepped in and helped out but you can't replace a Thomas Vanek. He can make or break a game."

Americans head coach Randy Cunneyworth says Vanek's value stretches far beyond the points.

"Obviously, his character and his play speaks for itself," said Cunneyworth. "All year he's been a player who has done a great job for us."

Moose head coach Randy Carlyle wasn't about to change the game plan for Vanek but his players were well aware of what the Austrian brings to the table.

"He's an offensive player and a very dangerous player," said Carlyle.

SMYL SIGHTING: Former Moose head coach Stan Smyl, now the director of player development for the Vancouver Canucks, took in Game 2 in Rochester, N.Y., and was planning to be in Halifax last night to watch the Mooseheads take on Sidney Crosby and the Rimouski Oceanic in Game 3 of the QMJHL championship.

The Mooseheads have two Canucks prospects who might suit up for the Moose next season, forwards Marc-Andre Bernier and Francois-Pierre Guenette.

Bernier was selected in the second round (60th overall) of the 2003 NHL entry draft, while Guenette was a seventh-round selection (222nd overall) in 2003.

ALL EVEN: Out in the Eastern Conference, the Lowell Lock Monsters and Providence Bruins are deadlocked 1-1 in the Atlantic Division final and the Philadelphia Phantoms hold a 2-1 advantage over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the East Division final.


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