I’ve never been really been a fan of the saying “he plays the game the right way”, but after watching Panthers’ forward Tomas Kopecky over the past several weeks – I am inclined to re-think my position on that term. Already one of the Panthers’ alternate Captains since last season, Kopecky was thrust into a larger leadership role this season after injuries initially limited and then eventually ended Captain Ed Jovanovski’s season. Although the letter on Kopecky’s sweater remains an “A”, he has been looking like a Captain in recent weeks while leading the team through impressive and gritty play every night.
With the season almost over, Tomas Kopecky has already tied his career goal total after he lit the lamp for the 15th time this season on Saturday night against the Washington Capitals. Amazingly, Kopecky has reached the 15 goal plateau in just 39 games this season – a far cry from the 81 games it took him during the 2010-2011 season with the Chicago Blackhawks.
However, even though he is putting up career numbers, Kopecky’s accomplishments are not limited to his point total. Playing just over 17 minutes a game, Kopecky constantly finds himself on the ice and making a difference on both ends. In fact he currently sits 2nd on the team in takeaways with 21, 2nd on the team in shot percentage with 18.1%, and leads all Panther forwards in blocked shots with 24.
On special teams, Kopecky has been a menace on both the power play and penalty killing units. This season, Kopecky has played the most shorthanded minutes of any Panther forward with a grand total of 73:30 thus far. On the power play, Kopecky has recorded 80:39 and earned 9 points – including 4 goals. Considering how many injuries the Panthers have had to deal with this season, Kopecky’s ability to play in any situation has been invaluable to a team that has had trouble fielding a steady lineup.
All statistics aside, Tomas Kopecky’s most valuable contribution to the team is something you won’t find on any scoresheet. On a team that could easily pack it in and look forward to their offseason vacations, Kopecky has refused to accept mediocrity for both himself and the team. Even when a game is out of reach – like many have been this season – Kopecky has refused to go quietly into the night and constantly plays hard until the final buzzer sounds. Kopecky had this to say after the attempted comeback against the Washington Capitals came up a bit short on Saturday night.
“At that time we don’t really play for the result, we play for the fans. We play for the pride and the jersey we wear so it doesn’t matter if we are down by four, six or ten. If we are up four we should be playing the same way at all times no matter the result”
Although both the Panthers and their fans have had to endure a very underwhelming season, the leadership and confidence that Tomas Kopecky displays has been a source of inspiration not only for this season, but beyond. Even though he may never don the “C” in South Florida, Kopecky has once again proven himself to be one of the most valuable Panthers’ on the roster as well as a constant source of on-ice leadership. If the Panthers’ hope to return to the playoffs next season, players like Tomas Kopecky will be a major asset in getting there.
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