Zenon Konopka said he is dead serious about taking down the Mario Lemieux poster from his wall in the home where he grew up in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
Konopka fired back at his childhood idol after Lemieux blasted the league for being too lenient on the Islanders in wake of Friday night’s sloppy slugfest at Nassau Coliseum.
“I was not impressed,” Konopka told Newsday. “I think it’s tough for someone in his position and what he’s meant to the game on and off the ice to not look at it from both sides.”
“We’ve lost over 350 man games and we’re doing everything we can to win games and protect our players,” Konopka continued. “I think it’s unfair for a statement like that. He played the game and he understood that emotions get high and escalate. No one wanted things to get to that point [Friday] but we’ve got to take care of our own.”
Although the NHL suspended two Islanders—Trevor Gillies for nine games, Matt Martin for four—and fined the organization $100,000, Penguins Co-owner Lemieux was still furious.
He called the fight-filled contest a “travesty” and a “sideshow” and questioned whether he wanted to remain in the league after what he perceived was light punishment for the Islanders.
Many people who took issue with Lemieux’s statement noted the hypocrisy, given the fact that the Penguins roster features serial offender Matt Cooke--generally accepted as the dirtiest player in the game.
“I really have a hard time seeing where he’s coming from,” Konopka said. “Here are the facts. Matt Cooke is on his hockey team. The Penguins are in the top 1 or 2 with fights [they lead the league with major penalties]. It’s not like they’re a bunch of altar boys sitting on the bench there.”
Konopka told Newsday Sunday he was particularly bothered by the harsh penalty assessed to enforcer Trevor Gillies, whose elbow left Penguins’ Eric Tangradi with concussion-like symptoms.
“We’re upset with Trevor Gillies’ suspension. He has a wife and two kids and he’s spent the majority of his time in the AHL and ECHL. Me and [Gillies] understand what it’s like to play for $300 a week after taxes, to get stitched up and risk your life physically to play the game,” Konopka said. “Gillies’ job is not an easy job. For them to take [$24,193.53] away from him was not right. I think Mario needs to take a better review of what’s going on with his team and around the league.”
Konopka, who has taken a very vocal leadership role with the Islanders since joining the team last July, said he is not the only one irked by Lemieux’s statement.
“Our whole locker room is disappointed with the comments,” Konopka said. “Everyone in the room respected him so much as a player and as an owner as well. Obviously, it’s tough.”