When Tom Kostopoulos says “First and foremost, I sincerely regret the injuries suffered by Mike Van Ryn,” I believe him.

However, apologies aside, the National Hockey League yesterday suspended Kostopoulos for three games after the Canadiens‘ forward took Van Ryn into the boards during Saturday’s 6-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In a statement issued by the Habs after the suspension was announced, Kostopoulos said, “It was an unfortunate turn of events. I was just trying to get in on the forecheck and get the puck. I didn’t anticipate him turning and couldn’t stop. I was trying to finish my check and obviously it did not end up well. I never intend on injuring another player. I feel bad. I hope he is going to be all right and resume playing as quickly as possible.”

I believe him.

Kostopoulos is not the kind of player who goes around blindsiding opposing players into the boards.  However, he IS the kind of player who will go after Kurt Sauer of the Phoenix Coyotes, after Sauer sent Montreal’s Andrei Kostitsyn into the boards, face first, during a game at the Bell Centre Oct. 18.  The ultimate teammate, Kostopoulos took matters into his own hands that night after it became clear, rather quickly, that Sauer didn‘t want to have anything to do with big Georges Laraque’s overtures after the hit on Kostitsyn.

Yes, you could say that the Canadiens will be without one of their hard-nosed players for the next three games as a result of the suspension.  You could also say that the Canadiens will be without one of their best.

Because, 12 games into this season, T.K. has been one of Montreal’s top forwards. Granted, he has but one goal and one assist to show for his offensive efforts.  However, Kostopoulos is not a player who is paid to put the puck in the net.  At the same time, on some nights this season, he has been Montreal’s most dangerous forward, as witnessed by his four shots on goal, second to only Alex Kovalev, in Friday’s 4-3 loss in Columbus.  And that’s saying something on a team that boasts the likes of Kovalev, the Kostitsyn‘s, Koivu, Tanguay, Lang and Higgins.

You’ll also recall that T.K. was clearly one of Montreal’s best forwards in the playoffs last season.  That’s saying something on a team that boasts the likes of Kovalev, Koivu…well…you know the rest.

It’s very clear that GM Bob Gainey saw something special in the 29-year old Toronto native when he signed him to a free-agent contract on the summer of 2007.  After being made Pittsburgh’s ninth pick, 204th overall, in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, Kostopoulos found himself in a LA Kings uniform for two seasons before the Canadiens picked him up.

At 6-1, 201 pounds, T.K. is clearly no heavyweight.  But he wields a heavyweight presence on the ice for this Canadiens‘ team. He did not look out of place, by any means, playing on a third line with Robert Lang and Sergei Kostitsyn to start the season.  However, he became a victim of the numbers game when Chris Higgins returned from the injury shelf, forcing Kostopoulos to an already-crowded fourth line.

And now, with NHL vice-president Colin Campbell bringing down the hammer, Kostopoulos finds himself in the press box for the next three games, beginning with tonight’s contest at the Bell Centre against the Ottawa Senators.

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