Ice hockey: where muscular players skate on blades of steel, hurtling pucks at speeds of 170kmph. June sees invitational Canadian and American teams doing battle in two exhibition matches at the Hisense Arena, and USA captain Zenon Konopka is more than ready.
Zenon, first up, does it bother you that when Australians say ‘hockey’, they mean field hockey?
Yes, because it sounds like we should be playing in skirts!
Bringing (ice) hockey to Australia could be seen as a bit of a gamble, since we’re not known for our cold weather. Why are you bringing your exhibition matches here?
We know Aussies are passionate about physical sports, and if there were more rinks, there would be more Aussies playing in the National Hockey League [NHL].
What do you hope playing here will do for the sport in Australia?
[These matches will] help grow the game and support the young Australian boys and girls playing the game today. Give them something to dream about: to play in the NHL. I’ve read about an Australian kid named Nathan Walker who is hoping to make the NHL, and now I will be cheering for him. We want to give back and help Australia fall in love with the coolest game on the planet, ice hockey!
It’s Canada vs. the USA. One of the more memorable times the two countries played against each other was in the Olympics, where Canada ultimately won gold. Is anyone on the American team still harbouring a grudge about that?
I am sure there are some players [who are], but right now even though the games are called ‘exhibition’ games, these are our gold medal games now. We will party like rock stars in the arena and the Canadians will go home empty-handed.
Them’s fightin’ words – better back it up on the ice! Many of you players know each other from years of playing each other. What’s the locker-room atmosphere like?
Fantastic until we get on the ice – then it’s war. We are here to win and so are the Canadians. Make no mistake, off the ice we respect each other, on the ice we are in a battle.
With playing so hard, players constantly risk injury. You’re an ambassador for stopconcussions.com. Do you feel that’s an important message to promote here?
Yes, it is so important to me. When I was asked to be a part of this tour, as soon as I knew it was in support of spreading awareness about concussions and stopconcussions.com, it was a no-brainer to be a part of this. Even though I play a physical tough game, I now play smarter. I pick my moments and understand the risk I take every time I fight, so I take nothing for granted.
Which other countries are you playing these matches in? And are you guys planning on coming back?
I know they played in New Zealand a few years ago. I also hear there are lots of great cities in Australia where we could play where there are crazy ice hockey fans. I’ve heard rumours about [returning]. If so, I will be back – of course to defend our win...