His head and callused knuckles show the evidence of a man that has absorbed and dished out his share of punches.
His nose has been broken 13 times. It has taken more than 600 stitches to close years’ worth of wounds to his face. He has broken bones to his fingers and hands 10 times and has secretly played much of the first month of this NHL season with a few cracked fingers taped and inside a splint under one of his gloves.
Wild center Zenon Konopka plays the role of hockey enforcer on the ice well. Off the ice, it doesn’t take much to peel back the onion and realize he’s a lot different from who you’d envision as the stereotypical fighter.
Since 2009-10, Konopka has gotten into 89 of his 105 career fights — a lot more than any other NHLer. He has accumulated 914 of his 1,026 career penalty minutes — well more than any other NHLer.
Yet he’s not some beer-guzzler with a pit bull away from the rink. He’s a business entrepreneur and wine connoisseur … with a bunny rabbit.
“Everything’s backwards,” Konopka said, laughing. “I’ve got ‘Hoppy.’ I drink wine. I have a wine label. I own a bunch of businesses. It’s the complete opposite of my on-ice persona.
“You open a lot of doors through playing hockey and then you have to walk through them. I love walking into a business meeting, sitting back and being underestimated because of my job. People get shocked during these meetings for the intellect or my knowledge of wine. It’s kind of a game I play with people.”
Konopka owns a grape seed drizzling oil business (purepressoil.com). He owns a piece of a wine aerator (vin-aire.com). And his biggest passion is his wine label, ZK28, which can be purchased at zkwines.com, at several Twin Cities-area liquor stores and more and more metro restaurants, such as Kincaids and Sakura in St. Paul.
For three years, Konopka has bottled blends, white wines and ice wine in Canada with hockey pun labels such as, “Power Play,’’ ‘‘4-on-4’’ and “The Wild.” His first vintage inside the United States is called, “The Wild One.” It’s a 2011 cabernet sauvignon that comes out of the Twenty Rows Winery in Napa, Calif.
“The name just popped in my head, not just because of the team I signed with, but it’s my type of playing and the way I live my life can be a little wild at times,” Konopka said.
Born to the vineyard
Konopka, 32, grew up on a fruit farm in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, a town of 12,000 near the Buffalo-Niagara Falls U.S.-Canada border crossing. It’s believed only one other NHL player ever hailed from the area — former North Star Willi Plett.
Konopka’s parents’ farm grew wine grapes, eating grapes, apples, peaches, pears and plums. He calls the region the Napa Valley of Ontario because it’s the world’s largest producer of ice wine, a sweet dessert wine that comes when grapes are left on the vine until the middle of winter.
“It’s the perfect storm because Niagara-on-the-Lake is on Lake Ontario and the lake doesn’t freeze over,” Konopka said. “So the warmth of the lake bounces off the escarpment making a cycle, which is the perfect environment for growing these grapes.”
As a teenager, Konopka would pick the grapes in the middle of the frigid night. When the grapes are pressed, a chunk of ice squeezes off and “all that comes out is the sugar,” he said.
Konopka’s ice wine should be available in the United States by Dec. 1, “and it’s fantastic,” he said.
When Konopka was 13, his father died in a tractor accident at age 56. Konopka had to grow up fast and learned the value of a dollar, selling fruit down at the Sunday farmers market or picking grapes and selling them to wineries.
As he got older, his hobbies transitioned into the business bug. He has a huge supporting cast, including his girlfriend, Michelle Finley, who pounds the pavement by getting his wine into liquor stores and restaurants. He also has a team of wine experts because “I don’t trust my palate, so we basically have a wine council.”
Meet the parents
“We’re really proud of the wine we’ve made,” said Konopka, who donates a portion of money from every bottle sold to Keith Primeau’s charity, Stop Concussions. He also has teamed with the Wild Foundation. ZK28 is sold in five areas of Xcel Energy Center, with money from that and the Minnesota sales of his wine going back to the team’s foundation.
The promotional code “wild” also can be used at vin-aire.com for $10 off the decanter with an additional $10 going to the Wild foundation.
“Zen is a gentle, kind person who truly enjoys giving back,” Finley said. “A couple years back when I first started dating Zen, my parents were extremely concerned about me dating this rugged enforcer until he came over for Sunday family dinner.
“After that night my family went from discouragement to encouragement in the Zen department. There have been nights when he comes home stitched up and bruised and his first concerns are how my day was and how the big guy behaved.”
The “big guy” is Hoppy, Konopka’s rabbit, and every bottle of ZK28 is stamped on the back, “Hoppy Approved.” Konopka will be doing a wine tasting at Edina Liquor near the Southdale Mall on Saturday from 2-3:30 p.m.
Konopka knows NHL careers are short. In the past 12 years, he has played 300 NHL games (no active NHLer has a higher career faceoff win percentage than Konopka’s .594) and 441 minor league games for 14 teams.
He wants to make sure he has a life after hockey.
“The transition from hockey to real life is a tough one,” Konopka said. “With these businesses, we’re trying to help out a bunch of charities and have some fun along the way.”