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C Konopka fighting for a spot — literally

Lightning forward Evgeny Artyukhin, left, accepts an invitation to fight with forward Zenon Konopka two minutes into a training camp scrimmage Thursday at the St. Pete Times Forum.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning forward Evgeny Artyukhin, left, accepts an invitation to fight with forward Zenon Konopka two minutes into a training camp scrimmage Thursday at the St. Pete Times Forum.

TAMPA — C Zenon Konopka, all 6 feet, 215 pounds of him, said his plan on Thursday was to challenge the largest player he could to a fight.

Evgeny Artyukhin, 6 feet 5, 254 pounds, said sure.

The multipunch dustup, two minutes and nine seconds into a 60-minute scrimmage at the St. Pete Times Forum, set the tone for two more fights and board-bending checks.

Konopka, 27, trying to win a job, was the centerpiece, fighting twice and hitting often to catch the eye of coach Barry Melrose.

"I don't know what kind of analogy you want to use, but I have a bunch of chips, and before camp is over, I want all my chips in," Konopka said. "I'll do anything to make the team, and that's the bottom line."

"He came here to make the team. That's all this kid is," Melrose said. "He doesn't care whether he takes a veteran's job. I love that about him."

Konopka fought Artyukhin even and wrestled with D Matt Smaby after an open-ice hit on Vinny Prospal. F Adam Hall fought D Radek Smolenak, and Artyukhin's hit on 6-7 D Vladimir Mihalik made the boards lean.

It was good stuff to Melrose, who wants to "create a culture here of physical play and guys who play hard."

That is Konopka, who said only captain Vinny Lecavalier and RW Marty St. Louis are "off limits" as far as being hit while he tries to avoid a trip to AHL Norfolk.

"Anyone else, when I line up against them, they're my enemy. That's the way it has to be," he said. "I'm not worried about repercussions. I don't want to sit in a hotel room in Norfolk saying I should have done this or I should have done that."

Konopka, with 24 goals, 55 points and 194 penalty minutes in 62 games last season for AHL Syracuse, said he has no hard feelings after a fight.

"It's forgotten until we strap them on (today)," he said. "I'm not here to make friends. It would be nice, but right now, everything I've been working for for years is in this camp."

Scrimmage report: The White scored a 2-0 victory on goals by Paul Szczechura and Gary Roberts. Mike Smith and Karri Ramo made 17 saves each. … C Chris Gratton teamed well with Roberts and Mark Recchi. … Smaby and D Andrej Meszaros were solid. … No. 1 draft pick Steven Stamkos said the speed of the game was not a problem.

Melrose's report: The coach said he liked Stamkos with Ws Ryan Malone and Radim Vrbata: "They gave us a lot of reasons to think they could be starting the season together."

Melrose liked Mihalik, who he said has made "great strides," and St. Louis: "That guy is awesome. You can argue he's the most fun guy to watch in the NHL."

But he said, "Some guys look like they're here on their way to Norfolk, and I'm disappointed with that, because if you look at our lineup, there are openings, especially on defense."

Odds and ends: The roster for Saturday's game at Pittsburgh has not been revealed, but Melrose said it will be young. … Gratton said his surgically repaired left hip held up well.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

C Konopka fighting for a spot — literally 09/18/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 19, 2008 8:19pm]
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