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by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Fighting, dropping the gloves, scrapping, duking it out, or whatever you want to call it, knocking off helmets and making each other bleed all seem a little bizarre when you think about doing so while standing on a slippery ice surface and wearing hockey skates. But to many ice hockey fans, fighting is one of their favorite aspects to the game.

And for the first time this season, Islanders tough guys Trevor Gillies and Zenon Konopka took a few minutes at the end of practice on Tuesday to spar with each other, sharing a few tips and get a little extra workout in.

“He was giving me more tips than I was giving him, but Trevor Gillies has done this for a long time and in my mind he’s one of the top three fighters in the league,” said Konopka. “We played together in Florida and we are buddies, so we help each other out. He’s been great for me fighting wise and learning. Like anything else, you have to get better at your skills. Just like passing and skating there is definitely room for improvement.”

DJ King #17 of the Washington Capitals fights with Trevor Gillies #14 of the New York Islanders at the Verizon Center on October 13, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
Coming from a guy that led the League in penalty minutes and fights last season, it’s hard to believe Konopka says he still has skills to learn from his linemate. In 74 games with Tampa Bay, Konpka recorded 265 minutes in the box after fighting 33 times last season. But most of all, these two make a great pair, complementing each other well as bruise brothers.

“It’s nice to have a guy that I can grapple and spar with,” said Gillies, who averaged more than one fight per game for 75 penalty minutes in 14 games with the Islanders during the 2009-10 season. “It helps me because I have to go against the big boys. Zenon (Konopka) fights a lot in the middle weights and light heavy weights.”

“To be honest, Z has been amazing with me, always since we played together,” Gillies continued. “He helps me on the ice. He’s a good talker. He’s good at faceoffs, which helps us get the puck. He helps my game tremendously. He knows the game. I’m just happy I have a great friend that I get to play with.
It’s a lot of fun.”

In total, the Islanders have dropped the gloves in five out of their first six games this season, with exception of the home opener against the Dallas Stars.

Three of those fights belong to Konopka, who is tied for the league lead with Mike Brown (Toronto) after dropping the gloves with the winger on Monday night at 12:51 of second period. The Islanders centerman also found his way to the penalty box after earning fighting majors with Rangers forward Brandon Prust just 8:03 into the first and Chris Stewart a mere five seconds after the opening faceoff with the Avalanche.

Gillies also dropped the gloves on two occasions this season, both in the first period. First with Capitals forward DJ King at 2:47 and then again two nights later with Penguins forward Eric Godard at 2:29.

While some fights can easily be explained, a fight that begins just off the opening faceoff may seem to come out of nowhere to most fans, but scrapping with one of the heavy weights or middle weights is part of the game and there really are many different explanations for why someone might drop the gloves.

Zenon Konopka #28 of the New York Islanders jaws with Brandon Dubinsky #17 of the New York Rangers during pregame warmups at the Nassau Coliseum on October 11, 2010 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
“Every fight is different,” Konopka said. “Sometimes there are liberties taken with our better players. We have to make sure there are consequences to their actions and sometimes it is to get the fans going on a Saturday night or later switch the momentum of the game. Every case is different. A little more goes into fighting than most people think.”

His partner in crime agreed, saying that you never know the history between players on different teams. But no matter what, when the fights broke out early in the games it wasn’t because that was the Islanders game plan. It happened by accident.

“It’s not like we talked about it,” Gillies said. “It just happens. Sometimes you just want to follow the boys up on the bench and get guys going right away. It’s a big thing. Same thing on the road, you just want to get that spark and it kind of calms the seas too when there is a real good fight early in.”

But one thing is for certain, the Islanders tough guys are on the ice to do their jobs to help the team win and that means, when the puck drops, Konopka and Gillies are all about business.

“We are both pretty intense individuals,” Konopka said. “When the switch goes on at the start of the game, there is really only one gear and it’s pretty intense. It is something you relish the moment of playing hockey for a living and bring some punishment to other players and helping your team win. At the end of the day this is all going to help us win the playoffs.”
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