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Kostopoulos providing inspiration

by Laurence Heinen / Calgary Flames
With the Calgary Flames clinging to a 5-4 lead in the third period against the Dallas Stars on Monday night, forward Tom Kostopoulos helped provide some much-needed inspiration for his teammates.

Playing on a line with Tim Jackman and Blair Jones, Kostopoulos forechecked hard in the Dallas end and was a big reason why the Flames kept the Stars hemmed in their own zone for an extended period of time.

“That was a huge, huge shift,” explained Calgary coach Brent Sutter, whose squad hung on for a one-goal victory in front of an appreciative sell-out crowd of 19,289 fans at the Scotiabank Saddledome. “There was a shift before that and then it led into that one and then it led into the next shift.”

Sutter commended Kostopoulos, who’s known as TK to his coaches and teammates, for his hard work during a lengthy and productive shift.

“TK stayed out there through almost two shifts because he was down in the zone when we kept keeping the puck in and working on it,” Sutter said. “That was a momentum changer for us in a big way because they had gotten to within one, but we were able to get momentum back with those shifts.”

Watching his teammate work so hard in the offensive zone, forward Michael Cammalleri drew parallels between Kostopoulos’ play and that of a former NHLer.

“I was calling him Adam Oates after he came off,” Cammalleri said. “He was dishing, he had his head up, he was doing the whole thing. I think he just thinks he was Adam Oates out there. I’m going to call him Oatesy for the next little while.”

When told of his new nickname, Kostopoulos responded: “I don’t know about that. It was definitely fun and we think it created some momentum for our team.”

Kostopoulos put up solid offensive numbers during his three seasons with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League from 1996 to 1999. After notching 27 goals and adding 60 assists in 66 games during his final year of junior with the Knights, Kostopoulos was chosen in the seventh round (204th) overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.

During the next four seasons Kostopoulos averaged 56 points a year while playing with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League. He suited up for 11 games for Pittsburgh in the 2001-02 season and notched his first NHL goal to go with two assists, but only appeared in eight games the following campaign, recording just one helper.

“I was kind of stuck in the AHL and I couldn’t make the jump to the NHL as a first or second liner,” Kostopoulos recalled. “I kind of realized I’d have to adapt my game and learn how to play on the third or fourth line and try and work my way up.”

At the time, current Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo was an assistant with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Pens and he took time to help Kostopoulos work on improving his defensive game, penalty killing and forechecking.

“He’s probably the coach the really helped me mould my game and help me along the way,” Kostopoulos said. “He was a huge help to me along the way.”

After scoring nine times and adding 13 assists in 60 games with Pittsburgh during the 2003-04 campaign, Kostopoulos racked up 25 goals and 46 assists in 64 games with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL the following season, which was the NHL lock-out year.

He was a teammate of Cammalleri’s that season and then again the following two years with the Los Angeles Kings.

“He’s the ultimate teammate,” Cammalleri said. “He’s one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet – completely generous, caring. He’s the kind of guy that if he was starving and he was about to eat his meal but not everybody could have a meal because it was running out, he wouldn’t eat his meal.

“Anybody that I’ve ever know that knows him has nothing but fantastic things to say about him. Who he is as a person just translates to the ice. He’s willing to do anything for our team. He’s the ultimate when it comes to like a heart-and-soul teammate.”

Kostopoulos recorded the fourth 22-point season of his NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens in 2008-09 and followed that up with 21 points the next year with the Carolina Hurricanes.

“I don’t know how that happened,” said Kostopoulos of his propensity to finish with 22 points. “It’s weird. I’m still trying to break that 22-point mark. Maybe next year.”

After recording 18 points last season split between Carolina and Calgary, Kostopoulos had four goals and seven assists in 77 games with the Flames this year, but his teammates and coaches say they’re not relying on the veteran forward for offence.

“He’s an underappreciated guy,” said defenceman Mark Giordano. “He’s played anywhere from a top six role this year to (being) on the fourth line getting those energy shifts. He’s done a great job in any role he’s played.”

Sutter said he appreciates the workmanlike attitude that Kostopoulos brings with him each and every day to practices and games.

“He’s a guy that just comes to the rink and rolls his sleeves up and gets busy and gets to work,” Sutter said. “Whatever you ask him to do that day, he brings it to the best of his abilities and he throws it out there and that’s what you want. He knows what makes him a good player as far as how he plays the game and he fits that role very well.”
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