Every season, there always is that one incident that gets the armchair anti-fighting crusaders to voice their stance loudly.
“It’s a little earlier this year than others,” the Wild’s resident bruiser, Zenon Konopka, said.
That’s because this year’s first ugly incident came on the first day of the NHL season, in longtime enforcer George Parros’ first game as a Montreal Canadien. In a fight with fellow Toronto tough guy Colton Orr, the two swung for the fences. Orr lost his footing, had a fist full of Parros’ sweater and pulled the big man down. In a scary scene, Parros crashed to the ice mustache-first, was removed on a stretcher and hospitalized because of a concussion.
The anti-fighting media crusaders took to Twitter. The difference now was the next day, when actual influential hockey folks echoed that it’s time to examine if there’s a place for fighting in the NHL.
After all, the Olympics don’t have it, nor college. There’s less in the NHL playoffs, which offer some pretty good hockey to watch.
General Managers Ray Shero (Pittsburgh), Jim Rutherford (Carolina) and Steve Yzerman (Tampa Bay) were all quoted by TSN, with Yzerman saying, “We penalize and suspend players for making contact with the head while checking, in an effort to reduce head injuries, yet we still allow fighting.”
With a general managers’ meeting set for November, you know this debate will be added to the agenda, although NHL exec Colin Campbell told ESPN “there is not an appetite to change the rules with respect to fighting.”
Konopka says the Parros incident was a fluky “accident” that could happen at any point in a game.
“People at factories get injured all the time,” Konopka said. “Does anybody want that to happen? No. They’re not going to close the plant either. The key is learning from casualties and moving forward. Us tough guys need to learn about leverage in fights. What happened there can’t happen.”
Konopka is a fascinating guy, as most fighters are when they rationalize their jobs.
Konopka is big into “Stop Concussions.” Some proceeds from his wine label, ZK28, go to the charity. During last year’s NHL lockout, he went to Boston University, where they study chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative disease that occurs in people with a history of head trauma. The brain of the late Derek Boogaard was found to have CTE, and as of now, it can only be discovered postmortem.
“I feel like I’ve got a vested interest in it,” Konopka said. “Nobody’s fought more than me in the last four years, so if anyone’s got it, I’m a good candidate. They told me they think they’re a year out from being able to diagnose it in a living person.
“So I feel I better help work on the science part and raise some money so they can figure out how to fix you if there is something wrong with you down the line.”
So, how can Konopka justify such a dangerous job when he thinks there’s a chance he has the beginning a brain illness that can affect him later in life?
“You go into an automobile? There are crashes and fatalities all the time,” Konopka said. “You put your seat belt on, you follow the rules. You’re not going to stop driving. Driving is part of your everyday living.
“This is part of my everyday living. I grew up with hockey. It’s part of me. You take hockey away from me, it would be a crushing blow, and hockey needs policing.”
In Thursday’s Wild opener, Keith Ballard stood up for himself by fighting Colin Fraser after the Kings forward hit Ballard from behind. In the same game, Konopka sought out and fought Kyle Clifford two shifts after he boarded defenseman Jonas Brodin.
Pro-fighting crusaders say this is why fighting is necessary.