by Nick Hart | AHL On The Beat
Last summer, Tom Kostopoulos was at a crossroads. At 37 years old, he was Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s all-time leader in just about every major statistical category and an undeniable legend in the American Hockey League.
But after falling in overtime of Game Seven of the Atlantic Division Final, the Penguins season had come to a screeching halt and Kostopoulos had to contemplate if his career had, too.
After careful consideration, he decided to return for another run with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and signed a one-year contract on May 25, 2016.
What’s happened in the 10 months since hasn’t only validated his decision to come back, but it’s made the very thought of him calling it quits after last season unthinkable.
“The old man has still got it,” said teammate Oskar Sundqvist.
Now a year older, Kostopoulos leads the Penguins in goals (24) and points (54) as of April 10. He’s been the top offensive threat for a squad that’s held first place in its conference since the end of November.
Considering that retirement was an option not too long ago, Kostopoulos’ success this season has defied the odds in the eyes of many.
Those who share the same locker room with him are much less shocked.
“I wasn’t too surprised. Not at all,” said Sundqvist. “Still, to be putting up this amount of points at this stage of his career, it’s amazing.”
Did Kostopoulos expect this kind of production from himself, though? Not really, he says. He was confident that he could still contribute on the scoresheet, but his biggest goal this season was to continue being a preeminent presence to his teammates and take more young talent under his wing to assist in advancing their careers.
“Last year in the playoffs, I had a lot of fun playing with Carter Rowney and Jake Guentzel,” Kostopoulos said. “I was looking forward to picking it up with them again and trying to help get them to the NHL. So it’s kind of cool the way it’s worked out this year. Both of them have proved that they can play at that level and solidified themselves.”
Well, with Rowney, Guentzel and other young stars making it to the show, and Kostopoulos cruising as the team’s top scoring threat, that leaves only one more target in the captain’s crosshairs: the Calder Cup. And for all of the accolades and accomplishments Kostopoulos has racked up his career, a championship has eluded him the entire way.
As Kostopoulos and his mates gear up for the Calder Cup Playoffs, you can bet the house that he’ll be on the front lines for the Penguins, leading the charge like he’s always done.
“He’s a leader on and off the ice,” Sundqvist said. “He’s the heart and soul of this team, and no one could think differently.”