A talk with former Tampa Bay Lightning fighter, and personality, Zenon Konopka
In his short time with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Zenon Konopka made a lot of friends in the Tampa Bay area. He also raised a lot of eyebrows last season with his league-high and team-record 265 penalty minutes and 33 fights. Konopka is with the Islanders, now, and Thursday night will play his first game at the St. Pete Times Forum since leaving Tampa Bay.
Konopka this season is tied for the league lead with three fights and has zero points and 17 penalty minutes through six games. But he also has won 65.4 percent of his faceoffs, continuing a trend from last season when he won 62.3 percent.
I have to say, his hands, which looked like they had gone through a sausage grinder last season, looked pretty good. He said he needed no surgery but lots of therapy to get them back in shape. Same for the painful back which also was hurt last season.
Here is the 10 minutes Konopka spent with the Tampa Bay and New York media after Thursday's morning skate.
On facing the Lightning for the first time: "It means quite a bit, obviously. It was one heck of a year here last year. Especially the relationship you make off the ice and with the players in the community. So, you're attached to it. Obviously, when you come back it's great to see those faces and friends. Tonight will be all business, but until then, it's going to be a lot of fun here. ... They embraced me pretty well in this city, so it's great to come back and share those memories with some people I was here with."
On fit with the Islanders: "I think it's a good fit here with the Islanders as well. My minutes are up and maybe have a little more responsibility. It was tough, (the Lightning) couldn't fit me under the salary cap (he chuckled at his own joke), but I found a great home here. We have a great bunch of guys and a great organization, and I'm excited to see these young guys blossom."
On acclimating with the Islanders: "Oh, it's been great; to see (Steven) Stamkos blossom into the player he was. Now, you look in this room and we have three, four, five, six different guys who are on the right track, and you see a lot of similarities. So, it's been exciting. It's going to be a great year and a fun one. ... There are a lot of players here: Josh Bailey, Blake Comeau, (Andrew) MacDonald. What do you guys know about those players? Those guys are very, very exciting players to watch, and great players for a long, long time. But because they're on the island, they don't get any recognition. It would be great at the end of the day -- it's part of my life, kind of grinding it out and clutching and grabbing to get to the top, and we're doing the same thing here." "
On his talk with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman: "It was a lot of time and effort invested in this city and organization, off-ice as well. I thought we were going in the right direction, and being part of that you kind of wanted to see it through. But it's a business at the end of the day and you understand that. Did I understand the move? Yeah, to a point. But he explained and broke it down and I kind of had my piece. So, I think it was good for both sides to have that chat."
On injecting his personality into a team: "You know, it was a good fit here for me (with the Islanders). Maybe a little bit of guidance needs to be pushed in the room in certain directions and with certain players. Certain players have to be held accountable, and I'm happy to work with everyone and help my game along with everyone else."
On his beat up hands: "They're a lot better, let me tell you. I'm still not playing the piano, but they're a lot better than they were. It probably took about eight weeks before they were healed. We went to a lot of surgeons, but we were trying not to have surgery which was great. ... A lot of therapy on the back and hands, so it was a full summer of therapy. It was five or six days a week."
On his 33 fights last season: "I came into this season and a lot of people were asking about fighting. Are you going to fight 33 times again? It's one of those things where you play hard. Whatever happens on the ice, the bottom line is we're going to win here and make the playoffs. Obviously, no one is giving us a shot, but we're fine with it. We understand how good we are here, and we're going to make a run and it's going to be exciting. ... I wasn't asked to do anything (in Tampa). It's just the way you play and, for me, at the end of the day is what can you bring to the team. last year was maybe a little different role than last year. A prime example, we played in Toronto and I fought (Mike) Brown. It wasn't much of a fight, he fell down. I motioned him to fight again, and I kind of had to be reminded by a couple of players and coaches that we need you on the ice instead of fighting him a second time. It's a little bit refreshing, too, to bring more to the game, but I will never lose that side of aggressiveness. ... I didn't set out to have 33 fights last year, so who knows what happens. At the end of the day, it's make the playoffs. If we make the playoffs, everyone in here doesn't care about the stats. We don't care about how many fights, how many goals, how many assists or anything else. We've succeeded, and that's what we're shooting for."
On his pride about faceoffs: "Oh, yeah. It was a big part of my game last year. Ever since I was 12 years old it has been a big part of my game. A coach kept track of faceoffs when I was 12 years old, and ever since then I've taken pride in it. They really pushed me in that role here to try and excel in it."
On being an old school player: "You've got to bring whatever you can every night, and, again, I reiterate the fact we need to win. So, whatever you have to do to win. Everybody has a certain job to do, and it's important for us to know our role and excel at it."