Entire Slovenia is proud of Anže Kopitar

Kopitar’s LA Kings delivered the Stanley Cup home for the first time in team history

June 2012

Hockey player Anže Kopitar is currently Slovenia’s brightest star and is making sports history for the country. His numerous successes have triggered real euphoria and many people stayed awake for many nights to watch him excel at his work. The Los Angeles Kings hockey team are the new champions of the North American National Hockey League. In the sixth game of the playoffs, which they won 6:1, the Slovenian superstar Anže Kopitar and his teammates won their first trophy in the history of the team, beating the New Jersey Devils with the final tally of the Kings playoff wins being 4:2. 

Photo: Anže Kopitar Facebook page

The 24-year-old, who carried the names of his hometown of Hrušica and of Slovenia out into the world with his talent, persistence, maturity and enthusiasm, is today the most recognised Slovenian sportsman. His journey on the ice has been fantastic: not yet 18 years old, he was already facing tough competition as a player in the Swedishjunior team of Södertälje SK. He competed in the Slovenian national team for the first time in 2005. He could have competed for Slovenia sooner, if his father, Matjaž Kopitar, then an assistant to coach Kari Savolainen, had allowed him to, but he did not want to be criticised for inviting his son into the national team against the rules. Today, Kopitar Sr. coaches the Slovenian team. Anže Kopitar joined the NHL in autumn 2006, and has been playing for the Los Angeles Kings ever since. He is the first Slovenian to have competed for the Stanley Cup.

Thanks to Kopitar, Slovenia – together with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Scandinavian countries, Russia, Latvia and Switzerland - is now a country known for raising young hockey generations who, every year, leave for the other side of the Atlantic. His arrival in the most prestigious and desirable environment for all hockey players was also special for Slovenia. It is Kopitar - we could describe him as a ‘wonder boy’ from Hrušica, a small town above the Karavanke Tunnel on the border with Austria - who is contributing to the recognition of Slovenia in places where it was poorly known.

Photo - source: www.anzeseleven.com/

He took his first steps on the ice at home, literally - behind his house, where he spent many hours playing hockey, knowing that the knowledge of English imparted by his grandmother, who was a teacher of English, would also help him to open the tightly closed door of the NHL.
He decided to go to California and return with a Stanley Cup.

This exceptional hockey player and wonderful sportsman has frequently been asked by reporters if his extraordinary talent would not be put to better use in a more suitable and popular hockey environment than a Californian metropolis, either in a club which was regularly in the playoffs or one that had better chances of winning the prestigious Stanley Cup. He always replies politely that he believed that a team of the future was being assembled in Los Angeles and that they would soon begin to compete for a better ranking in the NHL and for the top prize, the Stanley Cup. This year, his prophecy came true.

The Kings managed to keep a base of faithful and extremely patient fans over the years, despite their numerous poor performances. They had to wait a long time for a sensational story - until Anže Kopitar came to California. Both pundits and fans immediately noticed his magic on the ice, his mature approach, physical power and sense of teamwork. These qualities have been highly appreciated since his arrival, and so, as a young man, he was offered what is for other Slovenian hockey players an unimaginable deal – a 7-year contract for 50 million dollars.

The Kings have thus become champions, and Kopitar is seen by many as the most valuable player in the playoffs and during the season. Last summer, he did not have a single day off. The local people say that he trained a lot, because he was seen at Bled and in the surroundings training to get in shape and regain his strength after a difficult recovery from a broken ankle. Do we ever think about how much work and concentration lie behind his success?

He is a true professional and completely dedicated to his work. I believe we should emphasise this more often, especially to young athletes, because we too often see only the end result. Anže Kopitar is a great role model and an inspiration to us all.

We followed this remarkable story as it unfolded every night in Los Angeles and New Jersey with great curiosity and the hope that he would succeed and return as a winner of the Stanley – and he did.

Thank you, Kopi.

Text by Matjaž Nemec, Sinfo, June 2012 

Photo: STA