It’s with no small admission of my own bias that I wax poetical about Zenon Konopka on this week’s Unsung Heroes. Though he hasn’t played a game in a Wild jersey yet, he did sign a deal with them before the lockout, and I’m sure that by now he’d have a fair few fights under his belt.
Konopka is one of those guys you can’t help but love as long as he’s on your team (and sometimes even if he isn’t). He’s tough and not shy about it; he fought 18 times during 2011-12 with the Ottawa Senators, amassing 193 PIM. The year before that, he led the league with an astonishing 307 minutes with the Islanders. He likes to start things now and then, but he also plays the “enforcer” role, sticking up for teammates as needed.
That is his primary role on any team; however, you can’t overlook his contributions stat-wise. Konopka is primarily a defensive forward and one of the better faceoff specialists in the NHL, winning 58.9 percent of them last year. In the playoffs, he was even more clutch — 70.7 percent of draws won, two assists, and heightened ice time in six games. (And he only took one minor penalty — talk about a focus on winning.) Though Ottawa eventually lost to the Rangers, Konopka’s impressive performance apparently struck a note with other NHL teams, namely the Wild.
The intangibles Konopka brings to any team he’s on are also what make him so great. Konopka is a hard worker, a loyal teammate and an entertaining part of any locker room. He’s got a great sense of humor and a natural charisma that make him a leader regardless of whether there’s a letter on his sweater.
On the Island, he took over and led the charge post-All-Star Weekend, determined to help the Islanders earn respect after captain Doug Weight bowed out with injuries. At the end of the 2010-11 season, many Isles fans (myself included) were disappointed to see him leave. He also has an incredible family backstory (here’s an article discussing his late father, Zenon Sr., who lived through World War II while living in Poland).
Oh, and in case you didn’t know, he’s also an entrepreneur — he has a line of wines called ZK28, no doubt influenced by his cultured upbringing in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. A dollar from each bottle of wine sold goes to concussion research. On the Island, he was also involved with the Islanders Children’s Foundation, promoting a tool called Vin-Aire that aerates and helps decant red wine faster.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t had a lot of stability in his seven-year career. He’s bounced in and out of the NHL and only played a full season with the Islanders, and nearly all of a full season (spread out over two years) with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is a very outspoken guy, which might rub some the wrong way. Still, he’s a great part of any lineup, bringing everything you’d expect and maybe more… which is why he’s an unsung hero.
To end, here’s a fight clip of him and Matt Kassian, whom he’ll now be playing with in Minnesota. (That is, once the lockout ends.) Konopka takes a few shots, but holds his own. Enjoy.