Skip to main content
Welcome to
super saver spring
offer ends april 20
save over $140
save over 85%
per week for 24 weeks
Welcome to
super saver spring
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Toronto Maple Leafs players Mike Komisarek (L) Mike Kostka (C) and Mike Mottau skate sprints on the first day of training camp at the Mastercard Centre in Toronto January 13, 2013. The Leafs along with the rest of the NHL hockey clubs start their abbreviated season in just under a week.


No member of the Toronto Maple Leafs had a bigger smile on his face when the dressing room opened on Friday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre.

Mike Kostka was still there, still a Leaf and, presumably given he had been lining up alongside captain Dion Phaneuf throughout much of training camp, one day away from playing in his first NHL game at age 27.

That's not something you see all that often.

Story continues below advertisement

Kostka, who grew up a Leafs fan 45 minutes east of the Air Canada Centre in Ajax, Ont., has bounced around the minors for years after four seasons with the UMass Minutemen in the NCAA.

He graduated in 2008 at age 22 and stepped right into the AHL, playing two seasons with the Portland Pirates before considering going over to Europe, as many players do when they sense they're beginning a long, low-paying career in the North American minor leagues in their mid-20s.

Close friend, Marco Rosa, another minor leaguer looking for a break (and now playing in Finland), convinced him otherwise.

"After my first two years in the AHL, I didn't get qualified by Buffalo and I had an opportunity in Germany and I didn't have a job here," Kostka said. "I was about to sign that night to go over to Germany, and Marco told me 'if you think you have a 1 per cent chance of making the NHL, you can't leave now.' For whatever reason, that just made sense.

"I stayed back, I held out for a few more weeks and then in late August, I got that contract with Rochester [in the AHL]. It's a good thing I stayed."

Back in 2004, Kostka was considered a budding star in Ontario's Junior A system, as he was a key member of the powerhouse Aurora Tigers team that went 76-7-0 that season.

He was given the OHA's Top Prospect Award and was even ranked 165th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting prior to the 2004 Entry Draft, which would have made him a seventh or eighth round pick.

Story continues below advertisement

Kostka went unselected, however, and went the college route, where he studied psychology and slowly continued to improve his game on the Minutemen blueline.

It wasn't until three years after graduation, with the Rochester Americans, that he began to really catch NHL scouts' eyes, as he put up 55 points and was pursued by several teams, including the Leafs.

"I got a ton of ice time and I really started to come into my own," he said.

Suddenly with a few choices on where to go, Kostka went with what he saw as his best NHL opportunity with the Florida Panthers and signed there the summer of 2011.

A member of the team up until the final day, he had already been given his equipment and thought he made it before learning he was the final cut.

"I was walking out of the trainer's room with all my new gear and we had already had a team meeting and they had kind of said that 'this was the team,' " Kostka said. "Then I ended up being the last cut the next day. So I'll believe [I've made the Leafs] once I'm wearing the jersey and I'm on the ice, I guess."

Story continues below advertisement

Florida traded him to the Tampa Bay Lightning in midseason, which is how he joined the Norfolk Admirals team that eventually defeated the Toronto Marlies for the Calder Cup last spring.

Kostka's name became famous in Toronto after he scored the bizarre double overtime winner in Game 3 of that series, a goal he shot from centre ice, banked off the glass and into the net for a 1-0 win.

"I told him I meant to do it," Kostka said of his conversations with Ben Scrivens about the backbreaker of a goal once they became teammates.

(A few months after the goal, when Kostka went to camp with the Marlies, coach Dallas Eakins had him attempt the shot again on the first day with his new teammates all watching on. He missed.)

"It's been a long journey to get to this point," Kostka said. "I played four and a half years in the AHL without getting an opportunity, and I've gone through a lot in those four years. It's definitely been a long road. I'm ready to start the next chapter and keep things going."

Kostka has been a revelation for the Marlies this season, as he has been one of the AHL's best defencemen for the third straight season in putting up 34 points in 34 games.

Story continues below advertisement

Only average sized and not the most fluid skater, Kostka's strengths are his ability to move the puck and play the power play, although his defensive game is what has improved the most over time.

"I take a lot of pride at playing at both ends of the ice," he said.

The trick for Kostka to have success in the NHL is going to be adjusting to bigger, faster players, as he can be caught backing off too much when defending a rush.

The elite players in the NHL can capitalize in situations like that far better than the stars in the AHL, something he will have to be ready for.

As a sixth or seventh defenceman, however, who can stand in for the injured Jake Gardiner, play both sides of the ice and give the Leafs competent minutes, he may be a good fit, regardless of his age.

(He also makes just $600,000 at the NHL level.)

Story continues below advertisement

Potentially using him with Dion Phaneuf, meanwhile, could give the Leafs more than just the one solid defence pair, something that was an issue for Toronto all of last season.

"He doesn't look nervous," Leafs GM Dave Nonis said of Kostka on Friday. "He's very good with the puck; he's incredibly smart. Does that translate to [being] an NHL defenceman? We're probably going to find out. Randy will play who he wants to play, but Mike doesn't look out of place right now. And his trajectory has been upwards since he started pro hockey."

The past two weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind for Kostka, who learned a week ago Tuesday that he was one of the Marlies players going to camp.

During a few nervous days of sitting around and waiting for the collective agreement to be ratified, he had to field call after call from excited family members, many of whom will be in the stands on Saturday in Montreal as he makes his NHL debut.

"To be honest, it hasn't really set in right now," Kostka said on Friday, an hour or so after learning he wasn't among the final cuts. "Definitely exciting times.

"I've internally always believed [I could make it]. You kind of have to have that belief otherwise you're probably not going to get that opportunity. I've had a strong belief in myself for a long time, that this is where I belong, and there have been a lot of stepping stones to get to this situation. A lot of ups, a lot of downs, and I'm happy I'm here now.

Story continues below advertisement

"To be honest, it's pretty surreal right now. I'm still waiting for someone from management or something to tell me [I'm going to the minors]. It's a dream come true, absolutely."

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies