Wild forward Thomas Vanek says he no longer gambles, has never bet on hockey and is trying to move on after testifying in front of a grand jury in July as a witness in a federal illegal gambling and money laundering case in Rochester, N.Y.
“It’s something I have to deal with obviously,” Vanek said after the Wild’s morning skate Saturday. “I’m not proud of the decisions I’ve made, but as a person, I just have to move on from it and learn from your mistakes.”
Vanek was a government witness in a case against three men who were arrested in June for allegedly conducting an illegal gambling business out of the Marina Restaurant and Bar in Charlotte, N.Y., since Jan. 2012.
One of the men, Mark Ruff, pleaded guilty Thursday to illegal gambling and conspiracy to launder money and faces nine years in prison. In court, Ruff claimed a $230,000 check he apparently laundered came from a gambler who was paying off a debt.
That man’s defense attorney later volunteered to reporters that the check was a New York Islanders payroll check at the time Vanek played for them. Ruff told the Democrat & Chronicle that the check was part of more than $1 million this gambler, which he alluded was Vanek, owed.
Vanek’s agent, Steve Bartlett, acknowledged to the Star Tribune on Friday that the check was indeed endorsed over to the men by Vanek “to get them off his back.” Vanek was betting on football, Bartlett said.
“If you read it quickly or you listen to [the lawyer’s] comments, it almost alludes to the fact that Thomas Vanek was involved in money laundering, which is totally false,” Bartlett said. “He is not the subject of any investigation or criminal charges or anything whatsoever. He was a witness against this guy who was the bookmaker. He was the guy that wanted money, and Thomas paid it to him. Thomas wasn’t involved in any bookmaking activities.”
Vanek said Saturday that from his end, nothing has changed from when he was first approached by the government earlier this summer. The only thing now is details have emerged.
“I look at it as bad decisions,” Vanek said. “There’s no other way to sugarcoat it or make it seem what it’s not. I made some bad choices. I feel I’ve learned from them and have to move on.
“I feel I’ve done nothing wrong besides to my family and to myself, and I’ve got to move on from that.”
Asked if he had a gambling addiction, Vanek said, “It’s something I got caught up into.”
Asked if he still gambles, Vanek said, “No.”
In the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association, the only mention of gambling comes in Exhibit 14.2: “Gambling on any NHL game is prohibited.” Vanek has not been accused of gambling on hockey and says he has “never” bet on hockey.
“This came up five months ago, so from there on out, it was something I knew was out there. Nothing changed for me now besides the details coming out,” Vanek said. “But as far as this being a distraction, no. I’m trying to move on from it. Once I come here, I focus on my job. The team has been great. Coach [Mike Yeo] and Mr. [Chuck] Fletcher have been very supportive. It’s been nice.”
Vanek said as far as he knows, he has no other responsibilities in this case.
“I was only there once. I was cooperating,” Vanek said. “I made a mistake.”
The NHL has indicated that unless it was determined Vanek was betting on hockey or faced criminal charges, it will not take any action against him. Vanek said he has not been contacted by anybody from the NHL throughout the entire process.
“We will obviously follow up on the ‘facts’ suggested in the article (referring to the reports out of Rochester) to satisfy ourselves that we are on top of the situation,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told the Star Tribune on Thursday.
Darcy Kuemper’s in goal vs. the Dallas Stars, who may be coming back with Kari Lehtonen.
Erik Haula will return, as will Christian Folin. Jon Blum has been recalled and will only play if Jonas Brodin can’t after warmups. Brodin told me in his mind, he’s playing (trainers are adding more protection to his glove). Ryan Carter is out with an upper body injury that Yeo doesn't think will be serious, but he won't be able to play his type of game, the coach said. Also out, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Cooke and a still-sick Keith Ballard.
Haula will center Stephane Veilleux and Justin Fontaine to start (Yeo likes Haula with Fontaine, and don't be surprised if like last game Yeo spots in a third forward instead of Veilleux to get them more ice time and limit Veilleux's), while Yeo will keep Vanek-Kyle Brodziak-Nino Niederreiter intact to start.
The Benn-Spezza-Seguin line is daunting.
"We have to be up to that task," Yeo said. "It's not going to be a one-man show tonight. It's not going to be just on Haula. There's going to be times where Mikko's line's out there, times when Granny's line's out there and you have to recognize who you're on the ice against and you have to make sure you attack when you have a chance to attack, but you have to manage the puck the right way, too."
Granlund didn't manage the puck well against San Jose.
Yeo said he may mix and match lines. Because Haula has been out, he wants him to get his feet under him first and then Yeo will see where the matchups take him.
I'll be on KFAN at 1:15 p.m.
I wrote my Sunday Insider about Jack Jablonski.
Tonight, during the Wild-Stars game, Jablonski will lead what will be dubbed as hockey’s largest stick tap when 18,000-plus fans receive thunder sticks so they can tap along with the 19-year-old affectionately known as Jabs.
A stick tap in hockey, as Jabs explained last week, “is when somebody gets injured – and we saw plenty stick taps in the Wild game Monday in New York. You tap your stick on the ice when that player gets up hoping that everything’s OK. It’s to show respect for people injured in a hockey game.”
Unfortunately, in Dec. 2011, Jablonski wasn’t able to get up after a check from behind while playing hockey as a sophomore for Benilde-St. Margaret’s. The injury left him a quadriplegic, but he has since become an inspiration to many.
Jablonski has devoted his life to helping others who are going through the same debilitating injury.
Jablonski’s Bel13ve in Miracles Foundation (www.bel13vefoundation.org) teamed up with the Wild and Minnesota Hockey to kick off #StickTap2Hope, a social initiative to raise awareness of the innovative recovery treatments already available for people living with spinal cord injuries. The hope is this becomes a global stick tap with supporters tweeting their photos and videos.
Jabs hopes to do this annually, and maybe this can take off like the Ice Bucket Challenge raised awareness for ALS last summer.
More in Sunday's paper on Jablonski.