If you had a team made up of only players like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Guy Lafleur, and Mike Bossy, with the same type of all-stars on defence and in goal, you wouldn’t win every game. You probably wouldn’t win the Stanley Cup. All you’d be is a fancy team that’s missing something.
You wouldn’t have the type of players who battle in corners, who scrap to protect, who check other teams’ best lines, and who add colour and blue collar work ethic and dedication and the willingness to overcome odds that they’ve been overcoming for years.
That’s why every good team needs the plumbers. And that’s why Tom Kostopoulos is not only one of my favourite Habs, but also a key ingredient on the club.
This is a guy who was buried in the minors, had minor success with Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, and by all accounts, was going to be just another player in a long line of players who play a few years in the bigs and then become roofers and car salesmen.
But Kostopoulos somehow made his way into the Montreal Canadiens lineup as a free agent a year ago, and he’s fit like a glove. He’s not a star, just a fourth-liner who sometimes replaces others on other lines. He’s a grinder, a sometimes-goal scorer, a guy who defends his teammates although he’s not huge (6′ 200 lbs.), a guy who gets his nose dirty, and in his own little way, is just as important as any player on the Habs.
I remember the reactions on Habs forums when he was signed. Krustyopoulos they called him. What was Bob Gainey thinking, they cried. Fire Gainey. Imagine, signing a minor leaguer when there were good NHL’ers to be had.
Early in last year’s season, a Quebec TV show called 110% was aired, with hockey people like Michel Bergeron and Jean Perron, and another named Michel Beaudry, and talk started about how the Habs should be playing their French Canadian players more, like Steve Begin, and forget about Kostopoulos, who’s from Mississauga, Ontario.
Beaudry, on live TV, and to the chuckles of the others, called him Kostfuckupoulos.
Not only did Kostopoulos prove Beaudry wrong with his great play on the ice, but Beaudry was fired from his TV show.
Bob Gainey, as usual, knew what he was doing when he signed this guy. Tom Kostopoulos would help any team in the league.
He helped the Habs last year with his character, grit, the way he played hurt, and the way he went up against anybody at any time.
And this year, he’s going to help them go a long way.