Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins fans weren’t the only ones left with sour tastes in their mouths after the team was ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Providence Bruins.
The club’s captain was equally as upset, if not more so.
“I think the way it ended was kind of disappointing,” said Tom Kostopoulos. “We had a great regular season. It was something to finish in first place [in the AHL], with all of the changes and movement on the team this year. Then to go out in the first round was kind of disappointing.
“I didn’t want to leave the game that way.”
The franchise’s all-time lead in just about every offensive category, Kostopoulos signed a one-year contract on Monday to return to the Penguins for what will be his 19th season of professional hockey.
And if he had his way, the 2017-18 season would be starting today.
“It’s boring right now,” said Kostopoulos as he stood in an empty locker room at the Toyota Sportsplex on Monday morning. “I like coming to the rink every day. I like being around the guys and being around the sport. So I’m happy to be signed and playing another year.”
Kostopoulos is coming off of one of the best seasons in his long and storied career. The most senior member of the Penguins led the team in goals (24) and points (54) this past season, his highest single-season totals in more than a decade.
“I felt pretty good about my regular season,” recounted Kostopoulos, who has appeared in 149 of 152 regular season games with the club over the past two seasons. “I was kind of disappointed with my personal playoffs. So I think both of those played a part about coming back here.
“But for the most part I had fun. I think I can still compete at this level, and I still enjoy it.”
Kostopoulos’ accomplishments are well documented across the hockey world:
- He’s one of just four players to appear in 600 games at both the NHL and AHL levels.
- He captained the Eastern Conference squad at the 2015 AHL All-Star Classic.
- He was named the 2016 recipient of the AHL’s Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award, for sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey
- This past season he recorded his 200th AHL goal and 500th AHL point.
And after his club captured the Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference and AHL regular season championships this year, about the only significant piece of hardware eluding Kostopoulos is a Calder Cup.
Laying claim to the AHL’s ultimate trophy is important to the Mississauga, Ontario native. But it isn’t the only reason he’s sticking around with the Penguins.
“I’d like to win,” he said. “[But] I don’t want to put everything on that, because there’s a lot more things going on here.
“A big part of this team is moving guys up to the next level and developing guys. A championship would be huge and that would be great. But it’s not the only thing.”
During the past several seasons, Kostopoulos has played a big part in helping to develop a bumper crop of Pittsburgh regulars, including Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, Carter Rowney and Jake Guentzel.
“I really get a kick out of it, watching guys excel in Pittsburgh now that were in Wilkes-Barre at one time,” he said. “I feel like half of that Pittsburgh team developed here in Wilkes-Barre. So it’s neat to see that.”
And at the ripe old age of 38, Kostopoulos is looking forward to helping yet another crew of youngsters – including Zach Aston-Reese, Troy Josephs and Teddy Blueger, to name just a few – achieve their dreams of playing in the NHL.
“I think it’s important to have a fun atmosphere here. Have an atmosphere where the guys can develop and move up and guys are learning,” he said. “With that, we’ll try to win again next year.”
Season ticket packages for the 2017-18 season are on sale now, and available by calling the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at 570-208-7367.
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