Chicago's Mike Kostka says Lightning coach Cooper put him on right path when both were with AHL Norfolk
Blackhawks defenseman Michael Kostka knows a lot about Lightning coach Jon Cooper. Both were with AHL Norfolk during the 2011-12 season, when the Admirals went on their remarkable run to the Calder Cup title.
Kostka, who makes his Blackhawks debut tonight, not only gives Cooper credit with helping mold his game, he gives him as much credit for molding Norfolk’s players into the cohesive unit that won 28 straight to end the regular season.
“He was awesome,” said Kostka, who signed with the Maple Leafs as a free agent after playing with Norfolk. “He’s a knowledgeable guy and knows the game. He can be strict at times but he also knows how to have fun with the guys. He was a really good balance for us. I can’t say a bad word about him as much as I’d like to.”
Tonight’s game between the Lightning and Blackhawks will be quite a reunion for Kostka as he not only faces Cooper but five players with whom he was teammates at Norfolk – Tyler Johnson, Richard Panik, Ondrej Palat, Mark Barberio and Radko Gudas -- though Barberio is a healthy scratch.
Kostka, 27, who had seven goals, 32 points and was plus-28 in 52 regular season games after he was traded to Norfolk in December, said that championship season is something he never will forget.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be a part of something that was that incredible in terms of the record,” he said. “The way that was going, it was something that we didn’t even know how it happened. The season ended and we were like, ‘Oh, crap.’”
“You have different levels of goals and achievements,” added Kostka, who said he still keeps in touch with about 10 of his former teammates. “My goal was to make it to the NHL and play here, which I’m very proud of. But at the same time, you never forget the things that got you there, and an experience like that really did help propel me forward.”
As did Cooper.
“We understood everyone had each other’s backs. That’s the cornerstone of how he likes to build his team,” Kostka said. “It takes time. I got traded there in December and it wasn’t like that yet. But throughout the season, you plant the seed early, and it’s something guys kind of grow into.”
Other stuff from the morning skate: Defenseman Sami Salo skated with the team and is good to go against Chicago. Salo missed the season-opener Thursday at Boston and Friday’s practice with what the team said was an upper-body injury. Salo said he sat out the game with the Bruins as a precaution and that a check-up on Friday (he said he did not have an MRI exam) revealed nothing serious. He also said he has no limitations. … Ben Bishop gets the start in net. Cooper said the plan all along was for Bishop and Lindback to split the first two games. A decision on Tuesday’s started at Buffalo will be made after that. … With Salo back in, Mark Barberio is scratched along with forward Tom Pyatt and defenseman Keith Aulie. … Former Lightning goaltender Nik Khabibuilin, the Blackhawks’ backup, said he is happy to see Marty St. Louis is Tampa Bay’s captain. “He’s always been the motor, the engine of that team. It’s good for him,” Khabibulin said. “He’s also got, at least I hope so, so much respect from his teammates for what he’s done over his career and how he started and had to battle through and what he’s become. I think it is a very logical choice.” … One aspect of the power play Cooper acknowledged has to get better is Tampa Bay’s performance on faceoffs. The Lightning won just four of 17 power-play faceoffs against the Bruins. “If you count it, starting with possession, you got to go back and get (the puck); no guarantee you’re getting right back in,” Cooper said. “All of a sudden, you look up, 30 seconds are gone on the power play and you’re not even in synch. Your players are a little bit more tired. It has a huge effect.” … Defenseman Eric Brewer, whose rush down right wing set up Valtteri Filppula’s goal against the Bruins, got big ups from Cooper for playing an “exceptional” game against Boston. “He played both ends of the ice,” Cooper said. “He was moving his feet. He kept up with the pace and jumped into plays. Brewer had two hits, a blocked shot and was plus-1. But the key might have been his 16:23 of ice time, much less than the 20:30 he averaged last season. “We’re playing with a lot of pace,” Cooper said. “He’s upped his game in that department. He came in extremely good condition when he came into camp and he hasn’t tailed off. I think there’s still a lot of youth left in his legs.” … Center Nate Thompson turned 29 todau. Asked if he got anything, he said, “Shaving cream in the face.”