Zenon Konopka - Much More Than Just a Hockey Player

Zenon Konopka was signed by the Tampa Bay Lighting July 10, 2008 to a 2 year contract. He spent the majority of the first year in Norfolk and was team captain of the Admirals in the 2008-09 season. He made the NHL squad in 2009-10 and became an integral part of the locker room and both on and off the ice. Originally signed for "grit" and occasional enforcer duties, Zenon Konopka quickly became much more to the team and fans. He developed quite a cult following among Bolts fans, who loved to see him hit and fight. The occasional goal was just extra.

July 2

F Zenon Konopka


NY Islanders

Tampa Bay

That was the line on the NHL.com free agent tracker showing the player name, new team and previous team Friday afternoon after former Tampa Bay Lightning forward Zenon Konopka signed a contract for the upcoming season with the NY Islanders. But there is a slot in there marked [story] as well. And aside from the official story released by the NHL, there is a whole 'nother story about the man we Bolts fans came to affectionately know as "Zeke". He had already been told by new GM Steve Yzerman that the Lightning's future plans did not include him and he would not be resigned by the team. Konopka understood the business part of hockey and he quickly moved on.

Zeke was never a big goal scorer with the Lightning, although he's had three 20+ goal seasons in his career: 2000-01 with the OHL's Ottawa 67's when he had 20 goals and 45 assists, along with 120 PIM in 66 games. In 2002-03 with the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers he had 22 goals, 48 assists along with 231 PIM (yikes!) in 68 games and in 2006-07 as captain of the AHL's Syracuse Crunch he scored 24 goals, 45 assists with 194 PIM in 62 games. He was never expected to be a goal scorer and the penalty minutes were always a big part of Konopka's game; he was never afraid to challenge anyone, anytime, and always stood up for his teammates at every stop. But those stats don't begin to describe Zeke's heart and that willingness to stand up for his teammates and also his off-ice fun that he brought to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Zenon Konopka was one of the reasons that many of the Lightning players repeatedly said the locker room this past season was one of the most tight knit they'd been a part of. Konopka was always on the lookout for a good time and as a practical joker he was one of the best, keeping teammates on their toes and alert for his jokes. The "shaving cream pie in the face" on a player's birthday became a staple in the locker room, along with drenching the #1 star of the game with water after he walked into the locker room from his post-game interview were two of the regular jokes that he was at least partly responsible for and no one was immune. Konopka also showed a pretty good talent for doing TV commentary as well; he "interviewed" several Lightning players that were in attendance at an event at the St Pete Times Forum. Teammate Stephane Veilleux (who is quite the tennis fan) was going to attempt to return five serves against Andy Roddick and Zeke may have found his calling after his playing days are done; he was a natural behind the mike, throwing zingers as easily as throwing punches at the variety of opponents he fought with on the ice (and that was quite a few, since he had 33 major penalties in the NHL this past season, most in the league).

Stephane Veilleux versus Andy Roddick (via SPTimesForum)

Zeke was always available to appear at assorted functions, from the previously mentioned Tampa Tennis Classic to making sandwiches at Subway to appearing on local radio shows. One of his more famous appearances was a rather hilarious prank call from a local radio station when one of the dj's posed as casino security and had teammate Stephane Veilleux totally convinced that Konopka had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly at a local casino after an all night out gambling and drinking.  Veilleux was told he had to bring clothes for Konopka and money to pay for damages done to the casino. This was played out on the air, but poor old Steph had no idea and they had him totally convinced to the point that he made them promise not to make the incident public so his friend and teammate would not get into trouble with the team.  All was well after it was revealed that it was just a joke, but one has to wonder if Veilleux ever got revenge....

Konopka has thrown out the first pitch of a recent Tampa Bay Rays baseball game, worn the microphone during games for SunSports and was always a good interview any time he was near a microphone. The Tampa Bay Lightning locker room will miss Zenon Konopka this upcoming season, as will the fans. The locker room will be a bit safer (maybe) and quieter (definitely) without Zeke in it. We wish him well.

Here are a few of videos of Zeke at his best, both on and off the ice.

NHL Zenon Konopka vs Dave Steckal @TBLightning Wash_Caps (via RealLightningFans)

NHL TBLightning Zenon Konopka Sounds of the game (via RealLightningFans)

Konopka / Smaby at Subway (via SPTimesForum)