Bruce Arthur's Toronto Maple Leafs' article from the National Post
includes a sizeable section that features former Minuteman, current Maple Leaf, Mike Kostka:
Which is why it's such a pleasure to see a guy like Mike Kostka in the lineup, because he is like found money. Kostka grew up in Ajax, a Leafs fan from the jump, and was a defenceman whose feet grew to size 13 when he was still 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds in the ninth grade, which didn't help his skating. He wasn't drafted by the OHL, and he wasn't drafted by the NHL, and he went to school at UMass-Amherst, and he eventually bounced around the AHL until he was let go by Buffalo in 2010. He was one day from signing a deal in Germany.
"One of my friends, Marco Rosa, who plays in Finland now, he just happened to come over, and I was going to sign the next day, and he came over and he was chatting, and it was like, you can't go now," said Kostka, 27, the morning of the home opener. "And I was like, what do you mean? I'm going to sign tomorrow. And he said if you feel like you even have a one per cent change of playing in the NHL, you can't leave here. Europe will be there."
Three weeks later, in a striking stroke of luck, Rochester called.
"My sister was doing grad certificate at Durham College, and the second part was an internship, and she got an internship with the Nashville Predators," Kostka said. "That was a couple years before, and she had worked for the Nashville Predators, and so then I get a call, and Mike Santos, who was the assistant GM in Florida now, had just left Nashville, and was trying to start to build the Rochester team, calls, and says, I knew your sister from the office, I know you came from a good family, we've seen you play, and we'd like to offer you a contract."
He signed for the minimum, US$37,500, and kept working. He got better. Tampa let him go, Toronto signed him, he played 34 games with the Marlies during the lockout -- and managed 34 points -- and he played the first regular-season NHL game of his life Saturday night in Montreal. He played 23 minutes with Dion Phaneuf that night, and played top-pair minutes again Monday, with 27:02. He was fine, passable, and saved a goal on a second-period penalty kill, clearing it from the crease. He doesn't give up.
"The hope is what drives you and what pulls you, but at the same time you've got to keep your mindset of where you're at," Kostka said Monday. "It's tough at times, obviously, you know, you hope and you want to be there, but I've learned throughout my career that it's not going to work if your mind is somewhere else, in the future or the past."
Sounds like a true Leafs fan. He never gave up, even when it appeared hopeless. He never left, even when hockey was tough. When asked what he would have done if hockey hadn't worked out, Kostka smiled. "It was gonna work out," he said.
Leafs fans have been conditioned to be a little more fatalistic about their chances. But they never give up, either. Maybe one day, it'll all work out.