WBS Penguins captain Tom Kostopoulos talks to the media on Friday as the team packs up for the season after losing in the AHL playoffs on Thursday night to the Charlotte Checkers. The veteran forward announced on April 4 that he would retire after the postseason
WILKES-BARRE — If there was any hope that an early playoff exit might make Tom Kostopoulos reconsider his decision to retire, he put the matter to rest on Friday.
A day after the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins were swept out of the first round by the Charlotte Checkers, Kostopoulos entered the locker room at the Toyota Sportsplex one last time. He announced on April 4 that he would retire at the end of the postseason — ending a 19-year career that began with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 1999 — and it’s a decision that Kostopoulos has come to terms with.
“Maybe I should’ve retired a season or two earlier,” he joked. “I know I couldn’t play next season. Even if I wanted to I don’t think my body would allow me. I just can’t play at the level I want to anymore.
“I know it’s time.”
In fact, Kostopoulos, 39, thought the time to end his career was actually five years ago when he entered the offseason without a team.
That was when Wilkes-Barre/Scranton offered him a one-year, AHL deal to come back to the place where his career began and help mentor young players. It was a process that was repeated over five years as Kostopoulos inked a one-year deal to return after contemplating retirement at the conclusion of each season.
“It’s been a lot of fun for me. Wilkes-Barre gave me another shot,” he said. “I appreciate that.”
Kostopoulos leaves the hockey world having played 630 NHL games, 722 AHL regular season and 100 playoff games. He holds just about every career offensive record with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, guided many of the young players who are now with Pittsburgh and earned the respect of every teammate — both current and from years past.
Knowing that this was Kostopoulos’ final postseason push made Thursday’s early exit especially difficult for the Penguins.
“I’m kind of mad we couldn’t do more for TK. You have a leader like that and you want to do everything you can for him,” said Garrett Wilson, who is signed for next season. “We just couldn’t get the job done.”
Jean-Sebastien Dea, who has been teammates with Kostopoulos the longest out of anyone on the current roster, echoed that sentiment.
“I feel bad for TK. He did everything he could,” Dea said. “Everybody should be proud of him.”
Kostopoulos said the only regret from his career is he never won a championship for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He said that could happen soon, however, as the roster is stacked with younger players who will return next season.
But while a championship eluded Kostopoulos at both the AHL and NHL levels, he finds solace in knowing he left his mark with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“I tried to carry myself the right way and teach everything I learned from my career. I think I’m leaving the team in good hands with some of the older guys I know that will be back,” Kostopoulos said. “Wilkes-Barre will have a strong team again next year. This organization looks really good in the future.”