From the NHL’s opening night came the season’s first serious fighting injury —and fresh fodder for the anti-fighting faction.
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.
“A lot of times it keeps everything in check,” the Wild’s Zach Parise said. “You can’t just run around and know you’re being protected by the rules and protected by the officials.”
And as long as cheering fans stand in droves whenever two combatants drop the gloves, fighting’s probably going nowhere.
NHL Short Takes: Roy’s outburst planned?
It’ll be entertaining watching Patrick Roy as a rookie head coach in Colorado. The Hall of Fame goalie and fiery coach in juniors received a $10,000 fine by the NHL for his exchange with Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau opening night.
Roy, upset that Ben Lovejoy kneed No. 1 overall pick Nathan MacKinnon earlier in the game, twice pushed the alarmingly flimsy glass partition toward Boudreau.
Boudreau said Roy’s antics were “bush league” and said it would be a long year for Roy if he keeps yelling at refs and opposing players.
“What Boudreau said was all lies,” Roy said the next day.
Regardless, you can bet this was calculated. Avs fans loved it, as did his players, who you know will work hard for a coach that 1) defends them, and 2) has a fiery temper that could one day be aimed at them.
Ugly tie back on bench
Longtime NHL journeyman Dallas Eakins made his coaching debut for the Oilers and in honor of his former Florida coach, Roger Neilson, wore one of the old coach’s hideous jungle ties. Neilson died of cancer in 2003.
“Roger was known for his horrible ties and I was saving this one for a long time,” Eakins said.
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Tuesday: at Nashville, 7 p.m. (FSN)
Thursday: vs. Winnipeg, 7 p.m. (FSN)
Saturday: vs. Dallas, 7 p.m. (FSN)
Player to watch: Matt Cullen, Nashville
The Minnesota native who played for the Wild the previous three seasons will make his home debut as a Nashville Predator on Tuesday.
“He’s got farmer’s strength.” - Wild left wing Zach Parise on defenseman Ryan Suter
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