By Nick Hart | AHL On The Beat Archive
The look on Dominik Simon’s face said it all. Eyes as wide as dinner plates, mouth slightly agape from a drooping jaw. It was shock and awe incarnate.
“Six-hundred AHL games?” he balked. And that’s not all. “Wait, 600 NHL games, too!?” Simon said in disbelief. “No, no way. Wow.”
But it’s true. On Sunday, Mar. 6, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins captain Tom Kostopoulos became a member of an exclusive club of hockey players to play in 600 NHL games and 600 AHL games. Only four players in history have accomplished this feat: Dave Creighton in 1967, Jim Morrison in 1971, Shawn Thornton in 2015, and now Kostopoulos.
“I mean, that’s pretty monumental,” said Penguins defenseman Barry Goers. “I’ve never had the opportunity to play with somebody who has played the game for that long and at that level. Honestly, it’s just an honor to play on the same team as him and have him as our captain.”
Reaching a milestone like the 600/600 Club requires both the good fortune of health and an unbelievable amount of talent, but just as important is one’s passion for the game. In that third category, Kostopoulos is unrivaled.
“There are a lot of players who love the game, or at least they think they love the game, but he loves the game so much,” said Penguins defenseman Will O’Neill. “So much that he’s kept his body in such a shape so that he can continue to play and continue to contribute at a high level.
“He’s an amazing guy who’s had an amazing career. We’re happy for him and so happy for his family.”
Seeing Kostopoulos reach the unique achievement has given his teammates the opportunity to reflect on his career. Many marvel at his skill, tenacity, and longevity, but every person in the Penguins locker room brings any Kostopoulos talk back to his leadership ability.
“He’s the best captain I think anyone has probably ever had and you can’t say enough about the guy,” Goers said. “He’s just a model pro. He shows everyone how it’s done, day-in and day-out. And I think that’s a credit to how he’s been able to play for so long. He does all the right things at and away from the rink.”
It doesn’t matter if it’s a seasoned vet or a first-year pro, Kostopoulos has gone out of his way to make a positive impact on their career. Just ask the Penguins’ rookie sensation, Dominik Simon, who came to America for the first time this season after growing up playing hockey in the Czech Republic. The very first interaction between Simon and Kostopoulos left a lasting impression.
“He just welcomed me to the team,” Simon said. “It’s simple, but it was great. I was like, ‘Whoa, this is a good captain,’ and the kind of guy who you see is friendly from the beginning.”
However, Simon has found out that being a leader as respected as Kostopoulos doesn’t come from being Mr. Nice Guy all the time.
“He’s strict sometimes, too,” the rookie said. “I had the unsportsmanlike penalty last game, and he was yelling at me. But you know, that’s what a captain needs to do. He’s a great guy, but he can be strict, too. That’s what I think the captain should be like.”
Kostopoulos downplays the significance of joining the 600/600 Club. In every interview he’s had on the subject, he’s brushed it off as more of an oddity before surrendering with a smile, “It’s really cool.” But the 600/600 Club means more than just games played.
Membership represents immense talent and skill. Membership demonstrates a dedication to the game that dwarfs that of most die-hard fans. Membership shows you’ve developed the unwavering respect from your peers that has grown with every game.
Membership means greatness.
“When I think about all the pro games I’ve played, I mean it seems like a while,” said Simon who played three years in the highest Czech league before coming to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. “But then I hear [about Kostopoulos], and… and wow. I’ve played nothing. I have a long way to go.”
A long way, indeed. Luckily for Simon and the rest of the Penguins, they have the ultimate example of how to be a professional skating with them every game.