TAMPA — When it comes to pregame warmups, the center red line is sacred, Zenon Konopka said.
Stay on your side, and everything is cool. Cross it, and there could be trouble.
"I just don't like guys skating on our side of the ice," he said Monday. "If someone skates on our side, in our building especially, I take offense, and I let them know and make sure they skate on their side of the ice."
The tactic and skirmishes that followed earned Konopka, by his own count, league fines of $2,500 in 2007-08 with AHL Syracuse and $500 for one incident this season with AHL Norfolk.
"Any way to motivate your team," said the center, who captained both squads. "If it takes a warm-up incident once in a while and I get fined 500 bucks, it's worth it to me."
Safe to say, you will notice Konopka on the ice. He is counting on it in the Lightning's final three games, starting tonight against the Penguins at the St. Pete Times Forum, as he tries to plant a seed in coach Rick Tocchet's mind for next season that he can contribute.
"It's huge for me," said Konopka, 28, who had 17 goals, 57 points and 18 fighting majors in 70 games for Norfolk.
"I'm playing these like playoff games for me. You want to show what you can do; from hitting to fighting to playing, winning faceoffs. I pride myself on a complete game."
And a feisty one, in part, because of advice given by John Brophy, his coach in 2002-03 for ECHL Wheeling who once had 325 penalty minutes in a 67-game season.
"He breathed that old school," said Konopka, 6 feet, 215 pounds from Niagara Falls, Ontario. "The biggest message he gave me is you better make an impact every night, especially if you want to move up. If you haven't made an impact late in the game, if you haven't blocked a shot, made a big hit, had a goal, you'd better grab someone and fight and make sure everyone in the building knew you played that night."
It was the philosophy he used in Lightning camp, when he fought teammates and declared, "I'm not here to make friends."
It is his mind-set in the locker room. As Syracuse coach Ross Yates said, "He wants to win at almost any cost. If he feels players aren't pulling their weight, he'll confront them and make sure they pull their weight."
"Night after night, the passion and intensity is there," said Tampa Bay right wing Brandon Bochenksi, Konopka's Norfolk teammate. "You'd like to say it's a controlled intensity. But he plays on the edge so well, sometimes he goes over it."
Konopka is so intense, even he admitted, "It probably hurts me in my everyday life. It's hard to switch it off and on. I've been in fights in softball games, ball hockey games. And we're talking the last few years.
"If someone is going to take advantage of my buddies, it's the same as taking advantage of my teammates. I take it personally. I don't care about repercussions on-ice or off the ice if someone is taking advantage."
Which brings us back to the pregame battles at the red line.
"It's part of his personality," Yates said. "Aside from getting calls from the league about once a week, it brought the team together and got guys sticking up for each other."
"He sticks up for his teammates, absolutely," Tocchet said. "In our building, we're looking for guys to come out of the pack to show the fans we're going to be abrasive and play hard."
Sounds like Konopka's kind of game.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.