Hockey fans know that physical play can send a burst of energy through an arena like a bolt of lightning hitting a nuclear reactor. A forward with the ability to incite fan-fueled momentum swings with his physical presence joined the Minnesota Wild today for informal practice.
Zenon Konopka, who signed with the Wild on July 1, debuted at the Wild’s fourth informal skate. If there were any ideas heading into these informal skates that the players were going to take it easy on one another, watching Konopka mixing it up today dispelled the myth.
“Because it’s such a short window till we start the season, whatever way you play, you have to play like that,” the Niagara On The Lake, Ontario native said. “Scorers gotta score, passers gotta pass and physical players need to be physical.”
“We saw some of that out there today and we’ll see more this week.”
The centerman knows his role and knows it well, as he has led the NHL in penalty minutes in two of the previous three seasons (finishing third in PIMs last year). Along with a physical presence, he is a solid draw man, winning 58.9 percent of his faceoffs last season. Konopka spoke with WildTV about skating during the lockout, signing with Minnesota and the club’s expectations this season.
It’s impossible to know if Konopka’s presence increased the overall physicality of today’s practice, but the battle level was another notch higher than yesterday’s skate.
The Wild’s elder statesman Matt Cullen knows what it takes to get prepared for the rigors of an NHL season, but the 1,000-plus game veteran reiterates that the physical nature of the game will be essential to get back as quickly as possible.
“The conditioning is something you have a lot more control over,” Cullen said. “The physical contact and the grinding it out in the corners is pretty difficult to duplicate in the weight room.”
“That will be the most important thing for us to work on getting back as quickly as possible.”
Cullen talked to WildTV about the informal skates, playing on the wing with Mikael Granlund, and taking in college and high school hockey during the lockout.
Happy Birthday goes out to Tom Gilbert, who was acquired at the trade deadline last season from the Edmonton Oilers for Nick Schultz. Gilbert was an ice-time machine down the stretch and, in his first full year with the club, will be an integral part of the Wild’s defensive core. He’s been paired with Clayton Stoner at the end of last season, and the duo has started off together during the informal skates. He acknowledged to WildTV the guys are a little sore, but also talked about the importance of having intense workouts in the early going, and addition of another Wisconsin Badger to the Wild’s blueline.
Today, Pierre-Marc Bouchard was back on the ice and was skating with Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck. However, there were multiple line combinations throughout the day, so no new line combos to report. Jake Dowell was the only player not on the ice with no word on the reason for his absence.