by Brian Coe | AHL On The Beat Archive
Tom Kostopoulos was just three weeks past his 23rd birthday when he made his American Hockey League All-Star debut in February of 2002. The third-year pro recorded two points (1+1) to help the Canadian team defeat the PlanetUSA All-Stars, 13-11, on Valentine’s Day in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Kostopoulos has seen and experienced a lot since suiting up for that game more than a decade ago, including guiding Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to the 2004 Calder Cup Finals, appearing in more than 600 NHL games, and returning to his roots by re-signing with the AHL Penguins last season.
Now, he’ll be making a return trip to the league’s mid-season exhibition as well.
A 16-year veteran, Kostopoulos will serve as the playing captain for the Eastern Conference squad at the 2015 AHL All-Star Classic, presented by Turning Stone Casino, in Utica, N.Y. on January 25-26. He was also selected as a starter in the game via fan voting held by the AHL.
Those are fitting rewards for the Toronto-area native, who is widely regarded as one of the hardest-working players in the league, even at the newly-minted age of 36 (he turned 36 on Saturday the 24th).
“I’m excited and I’m honored to represent the Penguins,” said Kostopoulos, who is now in his eighth season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. “I think it will be fun and a good time.”
More than a decade after his last appearance in an All-Star game (he was selected for the 2005 contest during his lone season with the Manchester Monarchs, but couldn’t play due to injury), Kostopoulos will be the most senior skater participating in the game. And although the playing captain is a somewhat honorary selection, based more on career stats than season numbers, Kostopoulos’ numbers stack up fairly well with those of many of the younger selections.
Through Saturday night, Kostopoulos ranked first on the Penguins roster with 22 points, tied with rookie defenseman and fellow All-Star starter, Derrick Pouliot
“I don’t know about an All-Star level, but hopefully I won’t look lost out there,” he chuckled when asked about his selection. “But I think it will be fun to be on the ice with the young, really skilled guys. Guys who are looking at their careers from the beginning rather than the end. Seeing the energy and the skill that they bring, it will be fun.”
There’s no reason to think that Kostopoulos will look out of place on the All-Star ice. Probably the hardest-working player on the team, the feisty vet keeps in excellent shape, and isn’t afraid to put in the extra hours to make sure he’s prepared to play.
“It’s always the first month of the season that’s hard,” Kostopoulos said after the Pens defeated the Hershey Bears, 2-0, on New Year’s Eve – a game in which Kostopoulos netted the game-winning goal and dropped the gloves with Hershey captain Dane Byers
. “I think every season it takes a little longer to get the piano off my back. But I feel good now.”
“He’s not slowing down,” head coach John Hynes
said of Kostopoulos. “The thing with TK is he leads by example. He’s a hockey player, it’s what he does, and it’s all he knows. It’s great for our team, and it’s particularly great for the young guys.”
While he had an enjoyable experience back in 2002 in St. John’s, Kostopoulos is approaching this All-Star game with the perspective of a seasoned vet.
“I think you look at it a little differently. When I played in one in the AHL at the start of my career, I kind of wanted to prove myself and look good out there,” he said. “Now it’s kind of taking it all in and appreciating it, getting to know some of the guys and seeing the faces out there. Hopefully my kids can come and have a good time watching it.”