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 Saturday morning. “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 a New York restaurant.
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 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 and that the gambler owed more than $1 million.
Vanek’s agent, Steve Bartlett, acknowledged to the Star Tribune that the check was endorsed over to the men by Vanek “to get them off his back.” Vanek was betting on football, Bartlett said.
“[Vanek] is not the subject of any investigation or criminal charges or anything whatsoever,” Bartlett said.
Vanek said Saturday nothing has changed since it was first revealed in July he was cooperating with the government. The only change is details have now 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. … 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.
Vanek said he has not been contacted by anybody from the NHL throughout the entire process.
The NHL has indicated that unless it was determined Vanek bet on hockey or faces criminal charges, it will not take action against him.
Vanek, who entered Saturday’s game with seven assists but no goals, said this has not been a distraction.
“Once I come here, I focus on my job,” he said.
Harding getting closer
Goalie Josh Harding, suspended by the Wild after breaking his foot in an off-ice incident in September, has strapped on the pads again and started taking shots before practices.
Harding had been doing his off-ice workouts and therapy away from the team, but he attended the past two games.
“He’s trying to make sure his foot can handle the boot,” GM Chuck Fletcher said.
Fletcher said he didn’t know when Harding would begin practicing.
“It’s almost like he’s just starting his summer routine, so how much time does he need to get his conditioning, to get his wind, to get his strength back and to get his movements back and how will the foot impact that?” Fletcher said. “So there’s still lots of questions.”
Once Harding’s able to return, he would likely first need to start in Iowa. After all, he hasn’t played a hockey game since Dec. 31.
“We’ll figure it out when we get there,” Fletcher said.
The Wild recalled defenseman Jon Blum in case Jonas Brodin (hand) couldn’t play. Brodin played, so Blum was scratched.