New Toronto Marlie Mike Kostka has come very close to playing in the NHL after participating in the league’s exhibition games before being the final cut by Florida Panthers in training camp last season.
After joining AHL’s Marlies this year, Kostka is still working towards his NHL goal for his new affiliate team – the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kostka believes it’s the little things that can help him fulfill his dream.
“I think it’s just learning from my mistakes in games or anything that I wasn’t happy about,” he said in the dressing room after losing 4-3 in OT against the Grand Rapids Griffins on Sunday. “I’m always doing my best to play the perfect game and I don’t think there can be any sense of complacency in your game.
“The second you start feeling that way, you get your foot off the gas a bit and start getting comfortable. So for me, it’s always about pushing forward whether I’m having success or I’m struggling to make sure that I’m always working hard because that has been the recipe for my success so far.”
Kostka was sent down to the Panthers affiliate AHL team, the San Antonio Rampage, last season before being traded to the Norfolk Admirals, who defeated Toronto to capture the Calder Cup.
He had seven goals and 25 assists in half the time he spent with the Admirals during the regular season.
The 6’1 defenceman was acquired by the Marlies as a free agent on July 1 but doesn’t find it strange to be on the other side. That’s because he has already been on six different AHL teams prior to his trade to Toronto.
“I’m used to having enemies and then having friends the next year,” he said. “It didn’t take long for me to fit in here.
“Also, being around the area [Toronto] is as close to home as anywhere will be.”
The Ajax native has passed Jake Gardiner in scoring, leading the team with five points in five games.
“I feel good, I feel comfortable,” Kostka said. “I trained real hard this summer so I came in with confidence but that was built through my preparation. But our main goal is to win games.”
Kostka played four years of college hockey at the University of Massachusetts and then signed a contract with the Buffalo Sabres in 2008 where he played for their team’s AHL squad in Rochester.
He was then dealt to the Portland Pirates and spent two seasons there with little success. In 156 games Kostka only scored six goals and 57 points.
Kostka joined Rochester again for the 2010-11 campaign, piling up his best offensive output with 16 goals and 39 assists.
Now with Toronto, Kostka sees a big upside to competing on the same line alongside a bona-fide NHLer.
“There’s a ton of talent on the team,” he said. “Playing with Jake Gardiner has been huge and makes it really easy for me to do my job.
“I’m just trying to do my best to contribute at both ends of the ice and I think with the team we have here, you don’t really focus on individual success when you have a good team around you.”