By Brian Coe
As the Penguins emptied their lockers at the Toyota Sportsplex on Thursday, many of the players on hand knew it would be their last time stepping foot in the team’s practice facility.
One player, however, knew for sure that he would be back in a few months time.
Penguins captain Tom Kostopoulos signed a one-year American Hockey League deal to return to the club for the 2014-15 season, it was announced on Thursday afternoon. The man known to many as “Mr. Penguin” was happy to have a deal wrapped up so soon after the season came to an end.
“It’s very nice for my family,” said the married father of two young children. “The last few summers have been stressful as most [free agent] hockey players will tell you. You don’t know where you’re going, what you’re doing, what to pack for. So it’s nice. We can get our kids enrolled in school and know where we’re going to live, and know where we’re going to be in the fall.”
Aside from the family assurances, Kostopoulos was also excited to be returning to a team that offered him a chance to contribute on a regular basis, while helping to groom the organization’s younger players for the National Hockey League.
In his 15th season of professional hockey, Kostopoulos led the Penguins with 22 goals and 47 points in 71 games last year. He also tied for sixth in the AHL with 13 power play goals.
“It was fun to be on the ice when the team needs a goal,” said Kostopoulos. “It’s different from the way my career has gone in the last few years. I wasn’t sure how I could fit in offensively, but it was fun to play on the power play and in key situations.”
The 35-year old also served as a shining example for many of the youngsters on the Penguins roster.
“Tom’s a guy that has tremendous leadership qualities on the ice, off the ice, the way that he plays the game,” said Penguins head coach John Hynes. “And really it’s great to have a player of his presence, his experience and leadership skills to continue on here in Wilkes-Barre.
“He was a huge part of why we were such a good team this year and a huge part of our playoff run.”
Kostopoulos was just as excited about working with that crop of up and coming players as he was about his individual success this past season.
“I said all year long that I think Pittsburgh has a lot of great young prospects with talent. So it was fun for me to work with a lot of them,” he stated. “They’re great kids and they’re learning fast.
“To be able to step in the role that I had and to work with them and help them improve, try to show them a few things, and watch them improve, was a lot of fun.”
A member of the inaugural Wilkes-Barre/Scranton squad who has played parts of seven seasons in Northeast PA, Kostopoulos now sees his career come almost full circle. He’s not sure what his playing plans will be past the upcoming campaign. But if the 2014-15 season is his last, he hopes to give back a little to an area that he says has already given him many great memories.
“My goal was always to be in the NHL, so I was hoping to finish my career there,” he said. “But the way it’s worked, how good the city and the people here have been to me, everyone in the front office has treated me so well, it’s kind of a neat story to come back and probably finish up my career here.
“I’m kind of thinking about next year now, how we can do things differently to go all the way. That’s the one thing I want to give back to this city.”
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