Now that the Islanders boast a trio of tough guys (Konopka, Trevor Gillies and the newly-signed Jeremy Yablonski), let's get to know one of them. Konopka (6-1, 213) was signed to a one-year deal by the Islanders July 2 after spending the past two seasons with Tampa Bay (he finished last season with 2 goals, three assists and a league-leading 265 penalty minutes in 74 games). The 29-year-old center is currently in Ottawa, Ontario for his summer youth hockey camp, the Zenon Konopka Hockey Academy (konopkahockey.com), but took some time recently to discuss his thoughts on heading to Long Island this fall:
What were your thoughts on signing with the Islanders July 2?
I'm very excited for the opportunity and I'm excited to play with a lot of young talent....my career has taken me a lot of places and I'm looking forward to learn here as well and pass on that knowledge I have gained elsewhere.
I obviously played against them and you know what's happening with that team....they have a lot of young talent. It's exciting to come to a team like that and to a team with such great history to try and get it back to it's heyday in the early 80s. They have fans still from all over. Recently, I ran into islanders fans in California, Florida and I even had a buddy who is an Isles fan in Virginia call me when I signed. It's cool to see such a North American following,
What do you feel like you can bring to the team?
I feel that I've got a lot to prove. I proved a lot in the minors and junior but I can bring a lot to the table in the NHL and this is an opportunity to prove that to myself and to everyone else around the league. Hopefully we'll be that under-the-radar team until we're in the playoffs.
What do you think of potentially playing with some of the other tough guys they've signed, namely enforcers Trevor Gillies and Jeremy Yablonski? And where do you feel like you fit in with those guys?
I love fighting and I don't mind fighting, but there is a difference between me and Trevor, who I consider a true heavyweight contender. I think of myself as more of a middleweight guy who can also kill penalties and win faceoffs. I look forward to that role and other roles on the team. But with Trevor and Yabo there [Konopka is good buddies with both], if the three of us end up on that fourth line it's gonna be a nightmare and I mean a nightmare for other teams. I'm definitely looking forward to that.
I like to think that I'm the type of player guys don't like to play against. I've got to raise the bar and help this team and add to that excitement. I can't wait to have the opportunity to make things harder on other teams and make them worry about playing the Islanders. When they come into our building, it's definitely not going tp be a cakewalk.
(Konopka said he'll be working with his set of trainers and long-time skating coach up through September, but once camp is approaching he'll be ready to go. And when he arrives, he'll have more than just Gillies and Yablonski to greet as familiar faces. Konopka also lived with P.A. Parenteau for two years while both were playing for the Portland Pirates of the AHL)