Zenon Konopka said he should’ve listened to his pet rabbit.
After being claimed off of waivers by the Buffalo Sabres on Friday, Konopka set out to make the trip from Minnesota by plane. Hoppy will opt for a car ride later this week.
Konopka’s connecting flight was at LaGuardia Airport in New York but once he got there, there was a chance he might not make it to Buffalo in time for the Sabres’ game Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils at 7 p.m. at First Niagara Center.
“The flight got delayed four hours and then canceled,” Konopka said. “But the tough part was they said they could get me in on Sunday, and I said, ‘That’s not going to work.’ So we found another flight at JFK, the other airport in New York. And then they lost my bags.”
By 3 a.m., he had his bags, and made it to JFK later that morning. However, he still wasn’t quite in the clear.
“We were on the tarmac for almost two hours this morning but finally got in here,” he said. “That’s the main thing.”
Konopka took the ice just before 11 a.m. on Saturday as the Sabres optional morning skate was wrapping up. He made it in the end, but he figures he maybe should’ve taken Hoppy’s method of transportation.
“Hoppy’s not a huge flyer,” Konopka said, laughing. “He wanted to drive so my buddy was down in Minnesota. He’s going to chauffer Hoppy up to Buffalo in the next couple days and he’s pretty excited as well.”
Known for his toughness and faceoff prowess, Nolan hopes that Konopka’s attitude and work ethic will leave a lasting impression on some of the younger players on the team.
“The one thing we really want to do is change the culture a little bit here, getting some guys that play with a little sandpaper to rub off on the other players,” Nolan said. “…You learn from your peers probably more so than you learn from coaches sometimes. Guys talk all the time in the locker room. So hopefully some traits that make him successful like the draws, a Tyler Ennis could learn from down the road.”
Konopka, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Thursday, grew up in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. and remembers going to Sabres games at the Aud with his father to cheer on players like Gilbert Perreault, Lindy Ruff, Mike Foligno, Dave Andreychuk and Donald Audette.
He’ll have some family and friends in attendance on Saturday and likely more for games in the future.
“One of my buddies said, ‘You’re going to be playing for free here by the time you’re done paying for tickets,’” Konopka said. “It’s something that I want my friends and family to enjoy too. They’ve been there the whole way for me and now to come back home and play in front of them is pretty special.”
Ville Leino, who missed the team’s last game with a lower-body injury, skated Saturday morning but will not play against New Jersey. Leino is hoping to be ready for Tuesday night when the Sabres take on the Hurricanes at home.
“I thought he looked good today, but the injury he had was pretty serious so we’re going to give him a little more time,” Nolan said.
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Defenseman Brayden McNabb will return to the lineup. He was a healthy scratch against the Wild on Thursday. He will take Alexander Sulzer’s spot in the lineup and Nolan said that McNabb will see some time on special teams.
“We have to be more conservative, more consistent and be aware,” McNabb said of the defensive corps. “When we’re going, you have to be 100 percent sure when you’re going to pinch and when you’re going to take those chances. It’s something where you have to read the situation and make sure you jump at the right spots.”
Ryan Miller is expected to start in goal.
With Henrik Tallinder out with an upper-body injury, his regular defensive partner Tyler Myers has been serving as an alternate captain in his place. Nolan made the decision based on Myers’ recent stretch of strong play.
“The way he’s transformed his game over the last month, he’s getting better and better,” Nolan said. “He’s getting more competitive. He’s getting more engaged with the play. He’s getting louder in practice. It really looks like he’s maturing into that type of defenseman, type of leader that we need on this team.”
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