WILKES-BARRE — During his three-month absence due to an injury, Tom Kostopoulos didn’t want to disappear from his Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin teammates.
While the 39-year-old Kostopoulos couldn’t be on the ice, he made sure to be a familiar face around the room.
“That was good for me,” he said after Thursday’s practice at the Toyota Sportsplex. “It’s nice to be around them and talk about the games. I enjoy coming to the rink every day.”
The absence — the longest of Kostopoulos’ career — also provided the team captain an opportunity to see the game from a different perspective.
Instead of leading on the ice, Kostopoulos watched each game with other players who were injured or scratched, and he said he learned a lot.
And in that capacity, Kostopoulos played a leadership role.
“You see different things and try to relay what you see to the guys that are playing,” he said.
Kostopoulos returned to the ice on Jan. 27 and earned the primary assist on Garrett Wilson’s goal during the 4-3 overtime win over the Binghamton Devils. Kostopoulos admitted that it took him a while to get his legs going after sitting out, but his teammates said it looked like he hadn’t missed a beat.
“He wasn’t off at all,” Wilson said. “It was huge just to have him in the room before the game and on the ice making plays.”
When the Penguins host the Hershey Bears on Friday, it will mark the 700th AHL game for Kostopoulos in his 19-year pro career.
Kostopoulos has witnessed many milestones during his long career and he usually isn’t too enamored by the achievements. That mindset hasn’t changed, even if it is 700 games.
“That’s a lot. I usually don’t think about milestones,” Kostopoulos said. “It all goes by fast and it adds up.”
• Head coach Clark Donatelli said Tristan Jarry will start in net on Friday, but he hasn’t made a decision on who will get the nod for Saturday’s game against Lehigh Valley.
• Tom Sestito skated in part of Thursday’s practice but is still considered week-to-week.
• Friday’s game will be the eighth meeting between the Penguins and Hershey this season, while Saturday will mark the 10th game against the Phantoms. The Penguins play both division rivals 12 times this season, but Wilson said he doesn’t get tired of seeing the Bears and Phantoms on a routine basis.
“I get up more for those two teams, You learn to hate them because you’re playing them so often,” he said. “I get fired up for them. It’s a big rival.”
• Saturday night is the Penguins’ annual Pink in the Rink game to raise awareness in the fight against cancer. Penguins players will be using special pink sticks during the pregame warmup, which will be autographed and auctioned off on the concourse.
Fans are encouraged to stop by Section 101 on the concourse to receive a temporary pink hair streak for a $5 donation, and a section of the concourse wall be painted pink. Fans will be able to leave messages of encouragement and remembrance for those affected by the disease, and a Pink in the Rink ticket package is available, which includes a $4 donation to the American Cancer Society.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky