Mike Kostka realizes that his ambitions are not particularly unique as it pertains to the game of hockey.
"I've still never played in the NHL," said Kostka, an engaging personality born in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke and raised in not-so-distant Ajax. "It's still a dream of mine, that's still my goal."
The now 26-year-old defender was on the cusp in the Sunshine State last fall, among the final cuts at training camp for the Florida Panthers. "They were like 'Yeah you did a great job, you outplayed some of our D that we have here, but they're on one-way [contracts]'. They're like 'Go down, you'll get called up, you'll get a ton of games, don't worry about it'. And then in two months I was traded."
He eventually landed with the Norfolk Admirals, the American League affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a club whose dominance last season included not only a Calder Cup - defeating the Toronto Marlies no less - but a ridiculous 29-game winning streak.
Undrafted out of the University of Massachussetts-Amherst, Kostka might just be your prototypical late blooming defenceman. The shaggy-haired local product began his pro career with two inconsistent seasons in Portland before breaking out in full offensive force with Rochester in 2010-2011, blasting 16 goals and 55 points from the blueline. While not quite as strong statistically last season - he ranked 15th among defencemen in the regular season - Kostka wrapped up the American League post-season in superb form, totalling more points than any other defender.