Mario Lemieux was one of Zenon Konopka’s heroes.
But the New York Islanders centre doesn’t think so much of the Pittsburgh Penguins owner anymore.
Monday, at Scotiabank Place, Konopka fired shots at Lemieux, the Penguins and the NHL for their actions after a brawl Friday in a 9-3 win over Pittsburgh.
In a blast on Saturday, Lemieux ripped the NHL for the supplementary discipline it handed out.
“As soon as I get home, I’m going to take the poster of Mario off the bedroom door down,” said Konopka, an Ottawa 67’s grad who is in town for Tuesday’s game against the Senators. “I can’t believe he’s that far removed from the game that he doesn’t realize in the heat of the moment what happens.
“We’re trying to keep our best players on the ice. We want John Tavares to be a superstar in the league and play every night. We’re going to do everything we can to protect our players in here. It’s not easy to do it, but we’re worried about each other. Not outsiders.”
Lemieux was upset for what he believed weren’t stiff enough penalties and fines for the Isles following a game that featured 346 penalty minutes, 10 ejections, 15 fighting majors and 20 misconducts.
Isles forwards Trevor Gillies (nine games) and Matt Martin (four) were suspended, while New York was fined $100,000. Hits by Gillies and Martin on Maxime Talbot and Eric Tangradi were called deliberate attempts to injure.
“You look at a guy like Trevor Gillies. He’s a first-time offender, he hits a guy, throws a few punches and gets a nine-game suspension,” said Konopka.
“The guy has got a wife, two kids, he’s playing in the East Coast Hockey League and the AHL most of his career. Now, he’s going to lose $35,000. It’s not right.
“In here, we feel for (Gillies). We feel bad. It hurts us to not have (Gillies) for nine games and it hurts me personally my buddy has been fined.”
Konopka said it’s not like this is anything new.
“People asked me after the game, ‘Have you ever been part of something like this before?’ A ton of times. In the East Coast league, I played for John Brophy, and in Syracuse this happened all the time. You know, this is hardcore hockey,” said Konopka.
“Montreal and Boston, they play a game and it’s great old- time hockey. ‘Wow, this is awesome’ with the rivalry.
“We have a game and now we’re getting crucified for it. We’re doing everything we can to keep guys in the lineup, to fight for points and do everything we can to win hockey games and everybody keeps taking shots at us.
“Check with our trainers (about) how many man games we’ve lost. We’ve lost 360 games to injury and now we’re getting crucified because we’re trying to have some retribution for a couple of our guys getting knocked out. It’s tough for us to deal with.”
Konopka said the issue could have been settled nine days earlier.
“We’re fighting, we’re clawing and we’re grabbing for anything we can to win. People forget we won 9-3 against Pittsburgh,” said Konopka.
“If we weren’t up 6-0, then nothing probably happens. But I’d like to straighten one thing out: Blake Comeau gets hit in Pittsburgh, knocked out of the game, comes back and challenges Talbot to fight him. Talbot wouldn’t fight. It would have been squashed right there if Talbot would have fought him in Pittsburgh. Story over.
“Things escalated. We’re out to win games and this is about our family in here. We care to a point what people think, but it’s about us in here and where we’re going. We know where we’re going as an organization. We’re excited to get there.”