TORONTO- Mike Kostka is training with some of his new teammates and it’s going better than expected for the 26-year-old, who is seen by some at the Ricoh Coliseum as the man who crushed the Toronto Marlies’ Calder Cup hopes with one single play.
“It’s not too tough to fit in even if you’re the enemy a little while ago,” Kostka said jokingly after doing skating drills with Marlies’ forwards Ryan Hamilton and Will Acton as well as eight Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospects. “I’m sure Scrivens will have a fair share of words for me. But (who I’ve met so far) are a good group of guys,”
At 9:09 of overtime in Game 3 of last season’s AHL finals, Kostka, who was then a member of the Norfolk Admirals, scored one of the most bizarre goals ever in professional hockey by shooting the puck from centre ice and having it bounce off a stanchion in the corner before deflecting into the open net. Marlies’ goaltender Ben Scrivens was behind the net waiting to play the puck as he was expecting it to come around the boards.
Furthermore, all of this happened while two Admirals’ players were inside Toronto’s zone and a day later the AHL admitted that the goal should not have even counted because the play was offside.
But it did. And Norfolk won the game 1-0, despite Scrivens making 30 saves, and it put them ahead 3-0 in the series. It also deflated an entire Marlies’ roster and Norfolk went on to take Game 4 6-1, sweeping the finals.
“I was just in shock as everyone else,” said Kostka about the goal that silenced everyone inside the Ricoh. “I couldn’t even fathom the idea it went in. I clued in when I saw my team jumping off the bench and skating at me, even though I didn’t see it cross the line. It was wild.”
Regardless of what happened last season, the Maple Leafs offered the five-year pro a one-year two-way contract on July 1st and he wasn’t too hesitant to sign.
“Toronto was the first team to come with an offer,” he said. “I looked at all the offers, eventually, and Toronto was the best for what I thought. I’m from (the Greater-Toronto-Area) originally and at the end it was nice to come here.”
The Ajax, Ontario native originally signed with the Buffalo Sabres in 2008, after playing four seasons for UMass-Amherst, and he suited up the next two seasons for their, then, AHL affiliate the Portland Pirates.
In 2010, with the Florida Panthers, then, affiliate the Rochester Americans Kostka led all AHL defenceman in goals with 16 and scored a career high 54 points in 80 games.
” I’m a little more of an offensive defenceman but I definitely pride myself on trying to be more of a two-way guy,” he said about his style of play. “I love killing penalties and being out there in crucial situations too.”
Despite never being drafted, and playing 307 AHL games without ever suiting up in the NHL, he still holds out to one day play in the big show.
“I’ve been chipping away at it, trying to improve every year and I think I’ve done that,” said Kostka. “With the dream being in the NHL, I haven’t had any games there and it’s still a fresh dream and my goal.”
On June 14th, less than a week after Norfolk won their championship, their, then, parent-club the Tampa Bay Lightning announced that they were no longer partnering with Norfolk and would be moving their players to Syracuse to play for the Crunch. Still being a member of the Admirals, Kostka would have been affected by this had he chose to stay with the Tampa organization. The same thing happened to him in 2008 when Buffalo moved their partnership from Rochester to Portland.
Signing in Toronto, he knows this won’t happen again and he’s thankful for that.
“That stuff happens all the time. End of the day it’s a business,” he said about Tampa changing affiliations. “One of the great things about Toronto is having their American league team in their NHL city. It’s unbelievable, even just going from the rink to home. It’s an amazing set up both here (practice facility) and the Ricoh.