Thomas Vanek, Michael Grabner return after drama-filled Olympics for Austria
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The Islanders did get two players back from the Olympics in full health. Just after John Tavares -- in street clothes and with one crutch to support his injured left knee -- received his gold medal in Sochi on Sunday, Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner returned to the practice rink with the Isles.
Those two Austrian Olympians had an experience slightly different from Tavares. Grabner had a hat trick in Austria's first game and tied Phil Kessel for the Olympic tournament lead with five goals. Vanek, Austria's captain, had only one assist in the team's four games and then got publicly criticized by Austria's hockey federation president after the 4-0 elimination by Slovenia.
Dieter Kalt, the federation president, said coach Manny Viveiros' choice of Vanek as captain "obviously went wrong" after a story emerged last week that several players on Austria's team were carousing until the wee hours after a 3-1 win over Norway that preceded the loss to Slovenia on Tuesday.
Vanek, Grabner and Flyers forward Michael Raffl, who was the only other NHL player on the Austrian squad, issued a letter of apology to the Austria federation after the loss.
"It's only a story because we lost," Vanek said after Sunday's Islanders practice. "Otherwise, it's a non-story. I apologized, not necessarily for myself. It wasn't the big deal it was made out to be."
Vanek went from that situation to his tenuous one here on Long Island. The Olympic trade freeze was lifted at midnight on Sunday and the March 5 trade deadline is getting closer.
"It's part of the business," Vanek said. "I'm happy to be back here, see the guys, and the only thing is to get ready for Thursday [against the Leafs]."
Notes & quotes:Frans Nielsen (broken hand) was placed on injured reserve, retroactive to Feb. 8. Tavares will go on IR as soon as he returns. Ryan Strome and Anders Lee, Bridgeport's two leading scorers, likely will take those two roster spots and be recalled as early as Monday . . . Kyle Okposo said he watched the entire Olympic tournament and that the sting of being snubbed for the U.S. squad didn't go away. "Especially during that Canada game," he said of the 1-0 semifinal loss by the U.S. "That's the sort of game you want to play in. It was tough."