UTICA, N.Y. -- Tom Kostopoulos hasn't played in the NHL since the 2012-13 season with the New Jersey Devils, but his passion for the game is alive and well.
For the past two seasons, Kostopoulos kept his career going as a veteran in the American Hockey League with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. Kostopoulos has played 630 games in the NHL with six different franchises and another 440 in the AHL during his 15-year playing career.
"Lots of memories, it's such a roller coaster," Kostopoulos said. "Getting called up, sent down, called up, and sent down. You're on top of the world one day and on the bottom of the world the next. One of the biggest things in this league is just talking about keeping everything in a level playing field, not getting too high or too low. Once you get to control that, the swings aren't too bad."
Taking control of his career is exactly what he's done. After he ended the 2012-2013 season by playing 15 games with the Devils, he moved on to the AHL where he's had a successful run. Four times he's scored 20-plus goals for the Penguins, including 22 last season. Keeping himself steady has almost been easy.
"Mentally it can be draining and frustrating and tough sometimes," Kostopoulos said. "So it's something the more experience you get, you kind of grow immune to it and you're ready for it and you're prepared for it and you don't take the swings so seriously."
That kind of veteran approach is what helped make him the captain of the Eastern Conference team at the 2015 AHL All-Star Classic. After so many games played, it was an honor that caught him by surprise.
"[AHL President and CEO] Dave Andrews called me and asked me," Kostopoulos said. "At first I wasn't sure, but the more I thought about it, I figured this would probably be the last time to do something like this. It's fun, my family is here so I think it'll be fun for my kids to watch. Something they can remember so I'm looking forward to having a good time."
The Western Conference defeated the Eastern Conference 14-12 at the Utica Memorial Auditorium on Monday. Hamilton Bulldogs forward Charles Hudon and Utica Comets goaltender Jacob Markstrom shared Most Valuable Player honors. Hudon had a hat trick and an assist and Markstrom made 16 saves in the first period on 18 shots.
For Kostopoulos, it's one more memory in what's already been a long career. For the young players he played with and against, it will be one they'll be able to learn from.
"With [Kostopoulos] here, he's played 500 games in the NHL and AHL, so there's obviously a grind for him early in his career to crack that NHL spot and when he finally did, it probably felt that much better because he had to really work for it," 22-year-old Manchester Monarchs forward Jordan Weal said. "Just learning from his experience would be good even if it doesn't happen now or a couple months from now. You never get too down on yourself because if you keep working hard, you're always going to have potential for an opportunity."
At 36 years old, Kostopoulos is the oldest player in the AHL All-Star Classic. Part of being a veteran player in the All-Star Game is made possible after having a solid career in the AHL, but also to provide a guiding hand to the young players and prospects still looking to make their way to the NHL.
"Things like this, everyone is such a good player and everyone has different experiences, so you try to make as many friends as you can and you try to talk about as many things as you can," 21-year-old Chicago Wolves forward Ty Rattie said. "You learn a lot of stuff and that's what's great about these things. … I'll be a sponge and see what I can learn out here."
Young players and prospects want to show their skills, but listening to what some of their older teammates have to share about their time as professionals provides the kind of guidance you can't get through practice.
"Some of the things you hear and the speeches and stuff like that, they're consummate pros," Weal said. "They show up every day, every year. They're leaders in the dressing room. It's stuff you can take and you can learn from. It goes to show these guys have had a really long career and they're doing something right. If you can take one or two things from that and put it to your game or your locker room status, that's good."