Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Zenon Konopka claimed off waivers by the Buffalo Sabres; Injury "updates"

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild practice Updated: January 3, 2014 - 1:36 PM

The Wild's Zenon Konopka was claimed off waivers by the Buffalo Sabres.

Konopka, who signed a two-year deal with Minnesota in 2012, was claimed by the first team that had an option to take him (Buffalo's ranked 30th in the NHL) and the team closest to his hometown of Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario.

"It's 35 minutes from my hometown," Konopka said. "My mom was born in Buffalo, my grandparents, when they were alive, were from there, my aunt and uncle. The best call I made was to my aunt in the nursing home. She was telling everybody there, 'My nephew is going to play for the Sabres.'"

Here's a feature I wrote on Konopka in October.

Konopka has the top faceoff percentage in the NHL since he's been in the league and the most fights. Konopka was a fun guy to cover, always a great quote and a colorful character with all his business ventures, like ZK28 wines, and of course, his bunny rabbit, "Hoppy."

"I really enjoyed my time here," Konopka said. "I got so connected with the charities and the city and the people of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The toughest part of the whole thing is leaving this area. My time here was amazing, but this is the nature of the beast and I'll never forget my time here.

"I still plan to write that check to the Minnesota Wild Foundation [from his wine sales]."

Konopka gets to Buffalo late tonight and hopes to play vs. New Jersey tomorrow. We joked that maybe he'll get to play on the power play since John Scott does.

"I talked to Pat LaFontaine, and they value what I'm able to do on the ice and off," Konopka said. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity."

The move clears almost $500K from the Wild's cap and opens up a roster spot if GM Chuck Fletcher wants to make a move. If the Wild runs into center problems, it has Torrey Mitchell up here or Jake Dowell or Erik Haula in the minors.

But coach Mike Yeo is real happy right now with Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund-Charlie Coyle-Kyle Brodziak up the middle. All four lines contributed last night.

Niklas Backstrom will start Saturday against the Washington Capitals. Josh Harding didn't practice again today. Yeo said Harding is still not feeling well. He offered no other details and says that as of now, nobody has told him this is anything beyond just an illness.

If Harding can't back up against the Caps, Darcy Kuemper will.

Jared Spurgeon didn't practice today for the second time in as many practices. He's been banged up, but he was great against Buffalo on Thursday, so we'll see if he'll be able to play again against the Caps. If he can't play, Keith Ballard will get back into the lineup after being scratched against the Sabres.

The Clayton Stoner-Nate Prosser pair was real good against Buffalo and maybe this is a chance for Prosser to get a string of games finally.

Lastly, Justin Fontaine got popped inadvertantly in a battle drill in practice. Fontaine left dazed and definitely hurt. Yeo had no update he would share but expects him to play. Like I said, he didn't look comfortable, so we will see. If Fontaine can't play, either Mike Rupp will slot in or the Wild will have to call up a forward.

That's it for now. Some good stuff from Brodziak on his "goal" last night. Those quotes will be in Saturday's paper. and he certainly had a sense of humor about the "goal." Talk Saturday unless there's news later today.

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