Opponents and teammates alike choose a multitude of words to describe Islanders forward Zenon Konopka. Philanthropical may not always be the first to come to mind, but it’s one in the forefront of his recent charitable efforts with the Islanders Children’s Foundation. One of Konopka’s business interests off the ice is Vin-Aire, an instant wine aerator that expedites the decanting process of red wine.
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The tool is a necessity for red wine veterans and rookies. They retail online for $30 at vin-aire.com, but until Jan. 31, $10 from every Vin-Aire sold goes directly to the Islanders Children’s Foundation. Konopka recently told season ticket holders about the donation at a special event on Long Island.
“We’re really excited to be on this and have the charity involved,” Konopka said. “Our goal is to raise $10,000 for the charity by January 31, so hopefully we can meet and surpass that goal.”
Konopka is what hockey people would call an enforcer. Last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the six-foot, 209-pound centerman led the National Hockey League in penalty minutes and fights. One glance at his rough exterior tells you he’s been in at least a few; scars and bruises line his face and knuckles, while his nose sits just a shade off-center.
What these features won’t tell you are the attention to detail his hands and eyes pay to faceoffs. Or the wits and intuition that is used on those 50-50 draws with the opposition. After nine games this year, Konopka leads the Islanders in faceoff percentage with a rating of 62.7 percent. Mental capacity and physical strength in a fight are the two greatest assets Konopka relies most heavily on. For the physical, Konopka’s all set from years on the ice and in the gym. Now, he’s perfecting the mental side in offices and board rooms.
“For the last two months of summer, at least the last month, I’d wake up, work out, skate, then throw on a suit and go into a board room,” the Islanders physical forward said. “I’ve been in numerous board rooms where there are ten executives and then me. And I’ve got to sell them and explain the product.”
Konopka owns and operates Pure Press, a supplement company he started five years ago, that currently produces, bottles, markets and sells therapeutic grape seed oil. He also owns a minority stake in Vin-Aire, producers of a wine aerator that takes seconds to decant a glass of wine, as opposed to the traditional models that can take hours.
Konopka’s not just a figure head of either company.
“Day-to-day, everything goes through me in both companies,” he said. “There’s not a decision made in either company that doesn’t go through me. These guys (his Islanders teammates) joke all the time that I’m on my phone 23 hours a day. And literally, when I leave here, I’ve got to call the people involved in each business, find out what’s going on, what we need to do, and all day-by-day actions and decisions will go through me.”
Konopka has enlisted a former Junior teammate, Pat Smith, as his business partner.
Other hockey friends have also joined in on the business fun, from using products, to taking on a role in the companies. Islanders teammate PA Parenteau
is involved with Pure Press on the corporate end, while Jeff Halpern of the Montreal Canadiens, Ryan Malone of the Tampa Bay Lightning and a number of current Islanders teammates use the supplement. That bonus of working with friends and family was always a part of Konopka’s plan.
“At the end of the day, they say don’t go into business with friends.” Konopka said. “Well, I wanted to bust that theory apart. I wanted to start a business and get a successful business, so all my friends and family, whoever wanted to be a part of it, could be a part of it and enjoy each other. I want to work with my friends and so far so good. Everything’s going really well.”
Things are going so well that there is more on the horizon. Pure Press is planning on more supplements and Vin-Aire will be releasing a variety of sizes and accessories to go along with the original model.
Konopka insists that neither company takes precedent over hockey, but rather helps his on-ice game.
“I think in the long run it helps my hockey performance just because you have that confidence of doing something like that and you have that kind of outlet too,” Konopka said. “It’s a competitive outlet, too. It’s been great in a lot of senses. It keeps your mind working. So now you come back into hockey and talking about systems or anything else is pretty easy (comparatively).”
One way or another, the grape seed oil supplement has done wonders for Konopka’s game. Half a decade ago, when he created Pure Press, Konopka was still battling for a permanent spot on an NHL roster and building a company from the bottom up. Now he’s solidified himself with the Islanders and in the meeting room, winning faceoffs and business partners alike.