Which teams did you play for in the NHL? I started with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, then the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the New York Islanders, the Ottawa Senators, the Minnesota Wild and finished with the Buffalo Sabres.
What was it like playing in the NHL? There are so many amazing things. Obviously, you’re playing at the highest level. It’s the dream of so many kids growing up. It’s surreal at times, but then you realize it’s a job and you have to get it done or you won’t have a job. (laughs) The NHL has changed so much over the years.
What do you think of the game today? I enjoy it! There are so many great players to watch. But to be honest, I miss the physicality. There was always that physical aspect to hockey. I played an important part there. The role of “enforcer” doesn’t really exist like it used to.
What was your biggest accomplishment while you were playing in the NHL? I think it was becoming a leader on the team and in the dressing room. I played with some players who are still in the game today – John Tavares, Erik Karlsson, Matt Dumba – it’s cool to continue to follow them and know that I had a positive influence on them as young players.
What is one of your favorite memories of your time in the NHL? There’s a bunch! When we were playing in Madison Square Garden in the playoffs, it was Game 5 and we were up 2 to 1. There was a time-out called and I was on face-off. Jason Spezza was the second centre man out there. Our play was for me to win the draw and shoot it around to Spezza to get it out. It’s pretty intense in the playoffs. During that time-out, I took a step back, and the crowd was going nuts. There was less than a minute left and I looked at the linesman and I said, “This is pretty cool!” That’s the only time I’ve ever done that! I won the draw, the play worked perfectly, and we scored on the empty net which gave me an assist. I wish it was a better end to the story because we lost the series. (laughs)
Do you still follow the NHL? I still do. It’s great for young kids to have these amazing role models in the NHL and the game is still great to watch.
Tell us about your nickname, “Zenon the Destroyer”. Who gave you that moniker and how on earth did they come up with it? To be honest, I don’t really know! (laughs) When I played in Tampa Bay, I had 33 fights which is the most fights in the last 40 years, and when I played in Long Island, I had over 300 penalty minutes. I believe it was the fans in Tampa. They were making t-shirts! Tampa is one of my favorite cities. They are very passionate about sports in Tampa, and hockey, believe it or not. I had a pretty big following there! I was on a billboard on the way to the airport! I’m thinking, “How is this happening?” (laughs)
Your career has taken you all over North America, back to your father’s homeland of Poland and even to the land down under, Australia. What made you return to Niagara in your retirement? I love Niagara! I grew up here! A lot of guys in the NHL only go back to their hometowns in the summer to visit for a few weeks. I came back for the whole summer. I was always excited to get back here. I have a lot of family and friends here. It’s a great place to raise a family.
Any advice to the young men out there aspiring to hit the big time? Anything you’re going to do in life, whether it’s hockey or anything else, you have to keep learning. You have to keep working at your trade. It’s one of those things where you almost have to be obsessed with what you do and have fun doing it. If you enjoy it, you’re going to work more at it. I still work with kids and I like giving back to the community through my charitable work. Hopefully, we can see more local Niagara kids in the NHL.
The great jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” This was the challenge I