Crack open the slivovitz, because it’s going to be a long night in Slovenia. It will be 1:30 a.m. in the small European country when the Kings and Detroit Red Wings face off tonight, but there will be plenty of interested followers. For the first time, two Slovenian-born players will face each other in an NHL game, as the Kings’ Anze Kopitar and Detroit’s Jan Mursak meet.
Kopitar is a native of Jesenice, while Mursak is from Maribor, approximately two hours to the west, but the players were born only five months apart and grew up playing with and against each other in various tournaments. Kopitar was drafted by the Kings in the first round in 2005 and Mursak was drafted by Detroit in the sixth round in 2006. Mursak, after two years of OHL junior hockey and two years in the AHL, played 19 games for the Red Wings last season and then suffered a major ankle injury — oddly enough, almost the exact same injury that Kopitar suffered last season — last September. Since returning, Mursak has played 15 games, mostly in a fourth-line winger spot. The Kopitar-Mursak matchup, it seems, is big news in Slovenia, a country of approximately two million people. “Even on the news, and in the newspapers, they’re talking about tonight,’’ Mursak said. “Hopefully we can win tonight.’’ Here’s what Kopitar said about the game…
KOPITAR: “Obviously it’s the first time that it’s going to happen, so it’s going to be fun. He’s a great player, and I played against him quite a bit growing up. I know him quite well. We had a few national-team duties, in our younger years, when we played together. He’s a good friend of mine, but as soon as we step on the ice, he’s on the opposite side. I’ll play hard and he’s going to play hard, and we’ll see what happens.’’
MURSAK: “Well, Slovenia is really small, so every hockey player knows the other guys. He’s a really good player, and everyone back home knows him. We’ve been friends for quite a long time, since the under-18 juniors. He’s pretty busy there with hockey during the season, so we don’t talk too much.’’
A note to all my Slovenian friends out there. If any of you will be up watching tonight’s game live, or know of any type of gatherings, etc., please email me and let me know. I’m working on a bigger story about this for next week. Thanks.