Captain Kono Calls it a Career

It is ironic that Steve Konowalchuk, whose gritty and tenacious play exemplified “heart” in each of the 790 NHL games in which he appeared, would be forced to retire early because of a heart ailment. The former Caps captain, who was traded to the Colorado Avalanche early in the 2003-04 season, announced his retirement earlier today.

After receiving a number of opinions and subsequent medical opinions, Konowalchuk was diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome, a genetic condition involving electrical conduction that can lead to irregular heart rhythms.

The 33-year-old native of Salt Lake City was Washington’s third round choice (58th overall) in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. Along with Ryan Walter and Brendan Witt, Konowalchuk is one of only three of the 13 team captains in Capitals franchise history to have been drafted into the Washington organization.

My favorite Kono memories are of his days on what was at the time the best shutdown line in the NHL. Along with Jeff Halpern and Ulf Dahlen, Kono formed a line that owned opponents in the offensive zone, cycled the puck effortlessly and forechecked relentlessly. They kept the opposition’s best off the scoreboard and generally kicked in with 50-60 goals of their own over the course of a full season. It seemed they drew a penalty or two each game, too.

Injuries kept him from representing his country at the 2002 and 2006 Olympic games, but Konowalchuk was a proud member of Team USA during the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. I covered that team for a week during its August training camp in Columbus, and was grateful for the chance to be able to talk to Kono again on a regular basis after practice each day.

In his early days with the Caps, Kono played on a line with Kelly Miller and Dale Hunter. Miller and Hunter effectively passed the torch of hard work and defensive diligence on to the young and eager Konowalchuk. Some years later, Kono himself passed it along to Halpern, who in turn imparted it to Brian Sutherby, Brooks Laich and other members of the 2006-07 squad.

Although he left Washington some three seasons ago, the sweat and blood and effort he expended over his 12 years with the organization remains woven in the fabric of this team and this franchise. Konowalchuk always carried himself like a true pro on and off the ice. He’ll do well in life after hockey, but he will be missed around the league.

I wish him and his family the best of luck and health, and many good fishing days.

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2 Comments on “Captain Kono Calls it a Career”

  1. Absaraka Says:

    That’s more than a little depressing. :~( He leaves behind a game he loved, and leaves a lot of loving Caps fans with memories to cherish for years to come. He’ll be very sorely missed.

    Steve, if you’re reading this, Godspeed. You’ll always be welcome in Washington.


  2. Really nice site you have here. I’ve been reading for a while but this post made me want to say 2 thumbs up. Keep up the great work


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