TAMPA – Kyle Konin had just stepped off the ice Thursday after his weekly morning practice with the Lightning alumni when he saw he had three missed calls from general manager Julien BriseBois.
“I was like, ‘Oh boy, I did something really bad or something really good,” said Konin, a St. Petersburg resident and former college goalkeeper who paints face masks. goalkeeper for a living.
About seven hours later, Konin, 23, was ready for the St. Louis Blues for their game against the Lightning at Amalie Arena. Although he was not in the game, Konin led the team onto the ice for pre-game warm-ups and sat on the visitors’ bench.
âI wasn’t expecting any of this,â Konin said. âI would say everything exceeded my expectations. Guess I expected that I would get a jersey and be able to sit on the bench.
This is perhaps the rarest – and most interesting – opportunity in professional sport, when a normal person can go from spectator to participant, if only for a day.
Konin is the Lightning’s backup goaltender. Every NHL team should have one available for home games that can dress up if either team needs a goalie by the 11th hour. Most of the time, this never happens.
But when Blues starter Jordan Binnington entered COVID protocol Thursday morning and the team were unable to call a replacement for their AHL affiliate due to salary cap issues, Konin was called upon to take his functions.
Leading the boys
For Konin – who spent most of his childhood in Clearwater, whose first time on skates was at a Lightning youth camp in Brandon and who skated at the time at the St. Pete Times Forum as the Thunder Kid before a Lightning game – it was a dream come true.
Her parents, Jeff and Gina, are residents of Clearwater and Lightning season ticket holders, but Thursday’s game was not in their plan. So Jeff jumped in line to buy seats behind the visitors’ bench at Amalie Arena, close enough to get a good view of the stool where the substitute goalie sits and far enough away that the family weren’t a distraction. Kyle’s wife, Hannah, and her family were also in attendance.
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Hours earlier, Konin walked into a locker room filled with strangers who became his teammates for the night. The Blues outfitted him with a jersey, but the rest of the gear came from the gear bag he carried to every home game, including the pants he wore with lightning bolts to the side.
For pre-match warm-ups, Konin was invited to the front of the visiting team’s tunnel by captain Ryan O’Reilly to take his rookie turn, an unofficial indoctrination before a player’s first game. in the NHL. Vladimir Terasenko hit him with his stick, sending him outside. Brayden Schenn shouted, âLet’s lead the boys, Konzy. No bucket (helmet).
âI was a bit against it for a while,â Konin said. âI was just like, ‘I don’t know if it’s more, like, a thing you gotta win or whatever. I was just kind of like, I don’t know if I should. But all the boys were like, ‘Oh, no, you go, you go. So at that point, it was kind of like they decided that for me.
âIt was a good time, and it’s pretty cool to get the full NHL experience. “
A few rows above the bench, Konin’s parents watched with pride. Like his son skating without a helmet, Jeff told himself not to take a video with his phone because he wanted to completely capture the moment.
âIt was the coolest thing ever,â Konin’s dad said. âIt’s everyone’s dream to have this opportunity. Seeing with my own eyes was just, when you’re a dad, you want to see success for your kids, don’t you? It was a moment for him that he could soak up himself. And he knew when he came out of it, building himself, during, after, that we were all there to support him.
Part-time goalie, full-time entrepreneur
As the local backup goaltender, Kyle attends every home game for the Lightning. He’s sitting behind the local bench in Section 130, ready to grab his gear bag and help immediately if either team loses a goalie due to injury during the game.
But the timing of the opportunity – the Blues knew early in the day they would need Konin’s help – gave him the rare chance to be an NHL player for an entire day.
âI had all the experience for it,â Konin said. âNormally you go to the game and just try to stay mentally prepared, but there’s really nothing you can do physically until something happens.â
Konin’s path to the game was as twisty as the one that took him from Tampa Bay and back. His hockey ambitions and those of his younger brother Chris took him north to a prep school in New Hampshire. After a stint in the juniors, he played college hockey at Grand Valley State.
Along the way, he also became an entrepreneur.
After he started painting his own mask, Konin’s parents gave him an airbrush kit as a Christmas present. At 12, he started his own painting business. During prep school days, Konin painted around 20-30 masks for college programs. Now he operates his own airbrushing and goalie mask design business, Nujax Airbrush, from his St. Pete home. He painted about fifty masks this year.
âI’ve always been a goalie and I’ve always loved art,â he said, âso it was two things that went together. “
Konin currently plays for the Proformance Therapy A-League team in the Tuesday Night Beer League at Brandon Ice Plex. But his commitment to the Lightning has forced him to miss some games, including the league championship game last Tuesday. He is also a goaltender coach at Xtra Ice in Tampa and plays in local roller hockey leagues.
When the Lightning players returned to Tampa to begin training and skating during the offseason, starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was still in Russia and the team had yet to finalize their deal with substitute Brian Elliott. A few Lightning alumni, Mathieu Garon and Dwayne Roloson, spoke to Konin’s squad, and he started filling the net for the team in informal practices.
The opportunity led to an invitation from BriseBois to serve as the Lightning’s emergency goaltender this season.
And a possible NHL appeal from an opposing team.
âIt’s kind of an interesting scenario in sports,â Konin said. “I don’t think there is really any other sport where someone can just jump in.”
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