How St. Petersburg’s Kyle Konin made his NHL dream come true


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.

“I wasn’t expecting any of this,” Konin said. “I 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.

St. Louis Blues emergency goalie Kyle Konin warms up ahead of Thursday’s game against the Lightning at Arena Amalie [ CHRIS O’MEARA | AP ]

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.

St. Louis Blues defenseman Scott Perunovich (48) and backup goaltender Kyle Konin (31) watch from the bench during the first period of Thursday's game against the Lightning.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Scott Perunovich (48) and backup goaltender Kyle Konin (31) watch from the bench during the first period of Thursday’s game against the Lightning. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Follow all the action on and off the ice

Follow all the action on and off the ice

Subscribe to our free Lightning Strikes newsletter

We’ll be sending you Bolts news, analysis and commentary every week during the season.

You are all registered!

Want more of our free weekly newsletters delivered to your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

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, “Let’s lead the boys, Konzy. No bucket (helmet).

“I was a bit against it for a while,” Konin said. “I 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.

“It 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.

9-year-old Kyle Konin is pictured playing street hockey with his younger brother, Chris, while donning a Camp Lightning jersey and cap.
9-year-old Kyle Konin is pictured playing street hockey with his younger brother, Chris, while donning a Camp Lightning jersey and cap. [ Courtesy of Kyle Konin ]

“It was the coolest thing ever,” Konin’s dad said. “It’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.

Kyle Konin, left, and his brother Chris, 21, play together for Proformance Therapy in the Advanced Beer League Tuesday night at the TGH Ice Plex in Brandon.  Chris is a Division-I player in Army.
Kyle Konin, left, and his brother Chris, 21, play together for Proformance Therapy in the Advanced Beer League Tuesday night at the TGH Ice Plex in Brandon. Chris is a Division-I player in Army. [ Courtesy of Kyle Konin ]

“I had all the experience for it,” Konin said. “Normally you go to the game and just try to stay mentally prepared, but there’s really nothing you can do physically until something happens.”

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.

“I’ve always been a goalie and I’ve always loved art,” he said, “so it was two things that went together. “

Kyle Konin's passion for art led him to start his airbrushing and custom mask design business, Nujax Airbrush.
Kyle Konin’s passion for art led him to start his airbrushing and custom mask design business, Nujax Airbrush. [ Courtesy of Nujax Airbrush ]

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.

“It’s kind of an interesting scenario in sports,” Konin said. “I don’t think there is really any other sport where someone can just jump in.”

• • •

The Tampa Bay weather commemorated the Lightning’s second straight Stanley Cup title with a new hardcover tabletop book, Knock twice. Order now.

Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.

Never miss the latest news with the Bucs, Rays, Lightning, Florida College Sports and more. Follow our Tampa Bay Times sports team on Twitter and Facebook.


About Edward Fries

Check Also

Kids want to go to camp, but they need financial help – Press Telegram

Eight-year-old Elizabeth’s favorite activities at summer camp in the mountains last year were rock climbing, …