Dallas Eakins admits that on the first day of Toronto Marlies training camp he was all for giving Mike Kostka a little bit of a hard time.
The 27-year-old defenseman was a part of a Norfolk Admirals team that eliminated the Marlies from the 2012 Calder Cup Finals and he played a particularly key role in the Admirals 1-0 overtime victory in Game 3 of the series.
Five minutes into the extra frame, Kostka skated towards centre ice and fired the puck off the glass in an attempt to get it deep into the Marlies zone, but instead the puck deflected off a stantion and ricocheted into an empty Toronto net.
Goaltender Ben Scrivens who had left his goal anticipating that he would have to move the puck to a defenseman, didn't see the play develop in time to even make an attempt at making the stop. And just like that an opportunity for the Marlies to get back into the series ended with them falling into a deeper deficit that eventually ended with the Admirals sweeping the series two nights later.
In his first practice with his new team, Eakins wanted to see if Kostka could pull it off again.
"I took a puck and put it basically in the exact same spot that he had shot the puck from and I said 'Kostka lets see you do it again,'" Eakins recalled in a phone interview earlier this week. "And he attempted it and it wasn't even close."
He may not have been able to recreate the fluky shot, but Kostka has helped lead the Marlies defense core through the early portions of the 2012-2013 season. His three goals and 16 points in 18 games has him ranked second on the Marlies in points and third amongst all American League defensemen.
"He's a guy that's really invested off the ice with his training and diet and it's those guys who are fairly detailed on the ice too," Eakins said. "With knowing a fair amount about his game we weren't expecting this kind of start numbers-wise from him, but he's been a real key to our offense… We like playing an aggressive game; we want our defense firmly involved in the offense and really pushing the pace.
"He's bought into that and he's been a guy that our other defensemen can look to on how we want to play the offensive side of the game."
The Etobicoke, Ont., native has spent his entire career trying to work towards the NHL, however he's yet to find a roster spot with one of the leagues 30 teams. But instead of giving up on the game he's continued to work through the AHL, playing for five different teams over the last five years including stints in Rochester, Portland and San Antonio where he suited up prior to heading to Norfolk and eventually landing with the Marlies this summer.
And Eakins feels that his play over last season and into the beginning of this season has earned him a shot at the NHL.
"He's a guy firmly on our roster that if the NHL ever gets going again here I would hope that he gets at least a look," Eakins said. "Lets get him into a game or two and see what he can do at the NHL level."