Saturday, October 23, 2010

Protection is what you're here for. Protection--it's the stars who score.

We all have those players that come along and have big personalities or so so much for the team that you can overlook some short comings in their game because you can tell they love it so damn much. I have had a number of these guys in both hockey and baseball. Kevin Millar. Andre Roy. Zenon Konopka. They aren't the highest paid guys on the roster. They aren't the most talented. But they give everything that they have and the fans love them for it.

That's one reason I was very disappointed in my fellow Lightning fans this past Thursday in the game against the New York Islanders. Former Bolt and fan favorite Zenon Konopka was back in Tampa for the first time since his trade in the off season. Now, the soft spot in my heart for the guys who are willing to drop the gloves and fight is well documented. Konopka was definitely our primary fighter for a while. He had a big personality, the nicest guy you could meet off the ice, and hey. He's part Polish just like me. Pirogi connection was definitely present. I loved the guy. He was one of the players I knew I would follow for the rest of his career because he made that big of an impression on me in the time he was in Tampa.

For the baseball fans that follow me, signs are a big deal in hockey. Especially during warm up skate. About half an hour before the game starts, the players come out for about 15 minutes to skate, take shots at the net, stretch, and get the goalies warmed up. People make signs and put them on the glass, the players read them. In a sport where there are giant panes of glass between you and the playing field it is some small means of communication with them. Or with the hockey world at large: see my "Place Brian Lawton on Waivers" sign made for the ex GM. When former Lightning players come to town, I will sometimes make a sign and go over to the opposition's side of the ice for warm up.

This Thursday I was the only Lightning fan who came out for Z. It was simple. A small piece of poster board that read "We miss you Z". A small means of communicating that I remember what he did for the team. I remember the nights when his hands were so swollen from fighting, but he would still do what he had to do to spark his teammates. I remember his winning 60% of the face offs he took. I remember the big hits and the role he played in the lockerroom for his teammates in a time when things were bad for the franchise. I remember and will remember for the rest of the time he is in the NHL.

I got several smiles and a wink from Konopka for my sign. I don't expect a puck or any more of a reaction. I am glad I was there to let him know he was and is appreciated for what he did. Wearing a different sweater won't change that.

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