BUFFALO – Zenon Konopka’s travel ordeal began Friday night shortly after landing in New York from Minnesota. First, the center’s flight was delayed four hours. Then the airline canceled it.
“The tough part was they said they could get me in Sunday,” Konopka, who was claimed on waivers by the Sabres on Friday, said this morning after skating briefly inside the First Niagara Center. “I said, ‘That’s not going to work.’”
Konopka eventually switched airports, going from LaGuardia to JFK.
But the airline had lost his luggage. It wasn’t found until 3 a.m.
The 33-year-old later grabbed a one-hour nap at a nearby hotel before returning to the airport early this morning, where he sat on the tarmac for two hours and slept a little more.
But Konopka made it to Buffalo, arriving at the FNC as many of his teammates skated. He got on the ice late, and was still shaking hands and saying hello as he entered the dressing room.
“I feel pretty good, actually, all being said,” said an excited Konopka, who grew up rooting for the Sabres in nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. “I think it’s just a lot of adrenaline going.”
Clearly, Konopka considers himself a local and is ecstatic about playing for the Sabres. He’ll pivot Matt Ellis and John Scott tonight against the New Jersey Devils, interim coach Ted Nolan said.
“Growing up here and watching the Sabres in the Auditorium, it’s just amazing,” Konopka said. “You always kind of dreamt of being a Buffalo Sabre. My mom was born in Buffalo. I still have my aunts here. My grandparents were here. It was a pretty special time to get claimed by Buffalo, just looking forward to being part of the community and team and be part of the solution.”
When the Wild waived him Thursday, Konopka immediately thought about Buffalo, which had the first claim.
“That was the first thing that went through my mind,” he said. “Obviously, I was a little surprised. It’s something that everything happens for a reason in life. I’m super excited. As much as travel was pretty tough yesterday and today, I had a smile on my face the whole time. I’m just really excited and super motivated to be here.”
Konopka said he attended games at Memorial Auditorium as a youngster and Gilbert Perreault – “I’m kind of dating myself now,” he joked – was his favorite player.
The memories are special.
“In the Auditorium, I remember watching Pittsburgh, (Mario) Lemieux when he was on his points streak,” Konopka said. “My dad went. They were orange seats. But first row there was pretty cool. Just the atmosphere was pretty amazing.”
Konopka said “a lot of people” are coming to watch his Sabres debut.
Did his pet rabbit, “Hoppy,” make it to Buffalo?
“Hoppy’s not a huge flier,” Konopka said. “So he wanted to drive. So my buddy who was down in Minnesota, he’s going to chauffeur Hoppy up to Buffalo the next couple days. He’s excited as well.”
In other news, rookie defenseman Brayden McNabb will replace Alexander Sulzer tonight. Center Ville Leino (lower body) skated and feels better but will miss his second straight game. The Finn said he could play Tuesday.