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by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Two of the players signed by the New York Islanders in free agency this year have more than just the Islanders sweater in common. PA Parenteau and Zenon Konopka played for the America Hockey League’s Portland Pirates in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. When the puck drops for the 2010-11 season, they will join another former Pirate, Islanders forward Trevor Gilles on the Coliseum ice.

“It will be nice to be on the same side as those guys again instead of playing against them,” Gillies said. “I’m really looking forward to it. It’s another two good guys that are added to our locker room.”
With the locker room already booming with young talent, energy and excitement, the newly acquired forwards will be able to share their experiences and knowledge of the game.

“The Islanders have an unbelievable tradition,” said Konopka, who signed a one-year deal on July 2 with the Islanders. “I’m excited to bring my whole package to the team and start getting us back to where they were in the ‘80s. There is so much young talent. I’m excited to help the younger guys and really give everything I’ve got to the team.”

Konopka, a known agitator, was roommates and linemates with Parenteau in Portland, while he and Gillies shared the role of assistant captain, agitator and enforcer.

With his size, grit and skill, Konopka will balance Gillies perfectly. Last season, Gillies captured the hearts of all Islanders fans after earning an astounding 75 penalty minutes in just 14 games. At the same time, Konopka led the league in penalty minutes with 265 while playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I just think it’s the right way to play,” said the centerman about his aggressive playing style. “I try to play off emotion and off instincts. So it’s something I’ve been doing my whole career, not just in the NHL, but in the AHL and ECHL too, so I’m going to continue to do that.”

The Niagara on the Lake, Ontario native really enjoyed playing with Gillies in the AHL. When Konopka said he was looking forward to playing with Gillies again, he used words like “good friend,” “warrior” and “one of the toughest guys I know”.

“I think we’re both guys that play with high intensity and we feed off one another,” Konopka said. “When you can reunite to play with a guy like that again and raise each other’s intensity levels, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Gillies made similar remarks about Konopka, calling him one of his best friends in the game of hockey and when it comes to toughness this season, Gillies knows that they will share the role.
“The thing with Z is, he plays with heart and determination every night and gives it his all,” Gillies said. “I like to think I do the same. He has the ability to not only be a fighter but also get under your skin as an agitator.”

Konopka also played in the National Hockey League with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and the Columbus Blue Jackets, while he played in the AHL with Cincinnati, Portland, Syracuse and Norfolk.

In the American Hockey League, Konopka was known as a skill player who could play a lot of minutes and put up points at the same time as being an enforcer. While playing in 70 games with the Norfolk Admirals in 2008-09, Konopka accumulated his highest career totals earning 17 goals and 40 assists for 57 points – all while serving 186 penalty minutes.

“It’s one of those things where in the minors I played close to 25 or 27 minutes a night and not only fought, but I could put pucks in the net and kill penalties,” Konopka said. “When you play with a guy like Gillies, it’s going to open up the ice for skilled guys. We’re going to have a lot of fun causing problems for other teams having to deal with the two of us.”

Parenteau, who made his NHL debut last season with the New York Rangers (scoring three goals and five assists in 22 games), also signed a one-year contract with the Islanders on July 2. As Konopka’s former Portland winger, Parenteau knows that the duo will be a force to be reckoned with, describing them as “tough” and “great character guys”.

“I think they both bring some different aspects to the game,” Parenteau said. “[Zenon] can make plays… He showed everyone in the minors that he can put some points on the board too. I think Trevor is definitely known as a real heavy weight that can fight anyone in the league. So I think they’re going to play really well together. I don’t know if they’re going to play on a line together, but I think they’re going to make each other better in that kind of role, definitely.”

Prior to Parenteau’s NHL debut, the Hull, Quebec native spent two seasons with the Hartford Wolf Pack, the AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers. In those seasons his combined totals earned him more than a point per game with 63 goals and 96 assists for 159 points in 149 games.

Gillies knows Parenteau’s skill level is vast, calling him one of the most skilled players during the two seasons they played together in Portland. Konopka is also excited to play with his former roommate and linemate again.

“I think Parenteau and I will bring out the best in each other,” Konopka said. “I think I can open up the ice from him. He’s one of the best playmakers and scorers I’ve played with and I’ve played with a lot of pretty good players.”

Playing together early in their professional careers, Gillies, Konopka and Parenteau established an important connection. While Gillies is excited by the addition of his long-time friends, the new guys are excited to call themselves Islanders.

“I’m very excited. The tradition [on Long Island] and the fans are like no other,” Konopka said. “I’m real fired up and I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people, a lot of teams this year, by all coming together and making a run for the playoffs.”
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