Forgotten Prospect – Zenon Konopka by Tim Seaman
After four years of playing in the OHL with the Ottawa 67’s, Zenon Konopka is looking for a new town to play hockey in. He accepted a tryout contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins and is currently attending their training camp. Last year Zenon led the Ontario Hockey League in assists (68) and face-off wins (76%). Along with his 68 assists, the former 67’s captain also chipped in 18 goals and roughed up the opposition enough to earn 100 PIM’s.. These are nice statistics, but they look even better when placed next to the results of the 2002 OHL Coaches Poll. Zenon was voted the hardest worker, the best checker, the best at face-offs and the best defensive forward. He placed second in voting for the smartest player and the best penalty killer, and he also placed third for the best playmaker. It’s hard to believe an NHL team didn’t draft him.
“My first two years in Ottawa I was playing behind Mark Bell who plays for Chicago now and Dan Tessier who has been one of the best OHL players in recent years so I really didn’t get an opportunity to showcase my talents those first two years. I was more of a checking centerman and when I started getting more ice time I blossomed into a point producer and everything just fell into place last year.”
Although Zenon’s offensive and defensive games have gotten much better over the past two years, he is aware that he still has room for improvement and a long way to go before he reaches the NHL. His skating ability is the biggest knock on him, but he is the first person who will admit that.
“I’ve been working hard the last few years on my skating and it’s getting better, but to take it to the next level I’m going to have to improve even more and I’m committed to working hard on that .”
Aside from his leadership and skill on the ice, it’s what he does off the ice that makes him a special player. Whether it’s visiting schools in his spare time (about 100 visits in the past two years) and helping young kids with hockey practice or spending hundreds of dollars from his own pocket to buy stuffed animals for children, Zenon has proved his loyalty to the community in Ottawa and will do so again wherever he ends up. He is hoping that place is Pittsburgh with his boyhood idol, Mario Lemieux.
“Growing up, my favorite team was Pittsburgh, Mario Lemieux had a lot to do with that, and I guess it still is my favorite team now, and we’ll see how things work out here to see if they stay my favorite team (laughter). It’s so neat to come on the ice and skate with him. I idolized him growing up, it’s just amazing going on a 2 on 2 with him a getting a pass from him. It really is a neat feeling.”
If “Knopper” makes the big club or Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, as he is more likely to do, he won’t be the flashy 1st or 2nd line center. He will become the gritty 3rd line “shut down” center that Pittsburgh needs in their organization.
“I try to play a complete game. I try to be a playmaker, a good two way forward.. In certain situations I’m put in to take key faceoffs and shutdown the other teams top player. Whatever the coach wants, I do, I try to improve all the small things about hockey so the big picture works out.”
A team leader, a coaches dream, a community asset and a good player to boot. He will become a fan favorite in Pittsburgh or whatever club ends up with his services.