There’s one thing about the American Hockey League that never changes. And that’s change. Players come and go from teams regularly. You can be in the AHL one day and gone the next. Whether it be because you were traded, called up, sent down or possibly released, it doesn’t matter. Sure, some guys here and there stick around for a bit but on the whole…the AHL is a long-lasting league built on ephemeral tenures.
That’s what makes Tom Kostopolous so special.
Tom Kostopolous, he of 650+ games played with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, is as special a player as they come. So when he announced his retirement at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 season, it truly was the end of an era. After 1,300+ professional games and 600 games played in each of the NHL and AHL, the man who earned the nickname Tommy Non-stopolous in juniors for the London Knights is hanging them up. So let’s take a moment to thank Tom Kostopolous for everything. For the impact, he’s had from his drafting in the 7th round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1999, his NHL career that crossed the league and North America, to his return to wear the C for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team where he’s become a mentor for young players.
Tom Kostopolous joined the brand-new AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 1999-2000 as a teenager. And of their 19 seasons of existence, he’s played for them in ten (for those counting at home that’s more than half). He leads the team all-time in games played, goals, assists, points, and game-winning goals. He’s second all-time in penalty minutes. Of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s three trips to the Calder Cup Finals, Kostopolous was on the team for two of them. Additionally, he led the team to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014 where they fell in seven games to the St. John’s Ice Caps in six games.
But, more important than on the ice, over the course of the last 19 years TK became a pillar of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton community and a legend in Pittsburgh Penguins lore. Kostopolous his wife, Lisa, and their two children Lily and Luc are a part of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Penguins family.
In 2016, Kostopolous won the AHL’s Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award for sportsmanship, determination, and dedication to hockey. And this year, 2018, at his last regular season home game he was honored by the team boosters, the AHL, and everyone in attendance with a loud ovation as he was recognized for his community work. He was presented the Booster’s Player of the Year Award as voted on by the fans. Next came the IOA/American Specialty Man of the Year Award, presented to him by the AHL recognizing his work in the community. This includes his efforts spearheading the team’s Christmas gift giving, and his role in organizing an annual appearance at Back Mountain Memorial Library. This event sees TK, other WBS players and team mascot TUX read to children. Finally, he was joined on the ice by his family to watch a video on the scoreboard enumerating his many accomplishments. There was hardly a dry eye in the house when the video finished.
In true TK fashion though, it was down to work quickly once the puck dropped. The Captain tied for the team lead in shots on goal in his regular-season home finale with five and while he didn’t score his presence was felt.
The thing about Kostopolous though isn’t his stats. It isn’t really about how he plays. Like the awards given to him before the game it was more about everything else. The win, spearheaded by an incredible effort by Christian Thomas and Daniel Sprong’s 30th goal (tying him for franchise record), was all made possible by him. Kostopolous has been a mentor, a guide, and the kind of captain kids coming into their pro careers look up to. Between him on the bench and great developer Clark Donatelli behind it the team’s seen massive success stories in developing guys like Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust. It’s this that makes me fairly certain this isn’t the last we’ve seen of TK. This may be his last run to finally win a Calder Cup as a player but I fully expect him to join the organization as a staff member. Because Tom Kostopolous is a big part of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team’s soul.