Anze Kopitar’s smile during the first media timeout of Saturday’s game against Boston was noticeable.
His good friend Dustin Brown popped onto the videoboard with a message that brought equal parts heartfelt congratulations and typical Brown wit. Kopitar had officially passed his good friend and longtime linemate for the most games played in franchise history.
“Congratulations on the all-time games played record, it’s a record that I was extremely proud to hold, but I’m even more proud that you’re the one to break it,” Brown said, in a recorded message.
It was a great moment for everyone in attendance, who got to hear Brown’s message over the videoboard.
Was it the best moment of Kopitar’s night, however?
“[Brown’s message] was the second-best part,” Kopitar said. “The best part [of the night] was that my little guy came in here and read the starting lineup. That was pretty cool and he nailed it.”
Jakob Kopitar surprised his dad by reading the starting lineup for his franchise record-setting 1297th game pic.twitter.com/uNrpTTN0dv
— LA Kings (@LAKings) October 22, 2023
It’s the little moments like that, within a season, within a career that will always be remembered by the Kopitar family.
It’s probably not the moment that most of us will remember Anze Kopitar for as a player. I’d imagine that will be the Stanley Cups, the Selke Trophies, the scoring-leading seasons and the big-game moments. For Kopitar himself though, last night was likely a moment that will rank right up there alongside those on-ice memories.
“Kopi has scored I don’t know how many goals, he’s played I don’t know how many games, won two cups, all those trophies and international events, but I can guarantee you that what happened tonight in that locker room, with his little guy reading the lineup, will be right up there with the trophies and the rings and everything else that’s there,” Kings Head Coach Todd McLellan said after the game. “It’s just the way it is. We’re proud to have family join us in those moments, in those situations. It was really a moving moment that they should all be able to experience at some point.”
It’s unlikely that everyone in that room will break the all-time games played record, but McLellan’s point is bigger than that.
The Kings have always leaned into making special moments more special by incorporating family and friends. We saw it with Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick during the 2021-22 seasons, when both players had their families present for milestone occasions. For those games, the Kings all wore hats during warmups, commemorating 1,000 games – or 750 in Quick’s case – a non-traditional way of celebrating. For Kopitar, the moments were more sentimental and a little bit more for him, his family and his teammates, making a special day that much more special.
1297 games. Most games played in franchise history. pic.twitter.com/YfMhf1dOAs
— LA Kings (@LAKings) October 21, 2023
Last night’s milestone is also one that Kopitar likely will look back on a bit more fondly when it’s all said and done, maybe a bit further down the road. That’s not to say it’s not important to him in the moment, but as he comes to the rink today, it likely still hasn’t full resonated with him, with the nature of the day-to-day grind in the NHL taking over as it tends to do. Make no mistake, though, there’s something special for him about doing what he did and being tied with Brown in doing so.
“It might take a little bit more than just one night to set in,” Kopitar admitted. “I mean, it’s obviously a great accomplishment and it’s a little bittersweet, because I’m taking it from my very good buddy who called me old, and I will somewhat agree with him.”
Old is relative, I suppose.
As Kopitar skated in the 1,297th regular-season game of his NHL career, there were certainly some of those smaller details to honor him for his accomplishment, as he officially stands alone atop the franchise leaderboard. Special nameplates in the locker room for each player. The special moment with his son. His father, Matjaz, flying in from Slovenia to surprise him.
There will be a much larger and much more public celebration later on this season for Kopitar, who is on pace to reach several individual milestones this season. He’s on pace to score his 400th career goal and already recorded his 750th career assist. He’s also on track to move into second in franchise history for points as a King, after which only Kings President Luc Robitaille will be in his sights.
It’s a special season to come, and it will all be honored later on this season. In the moment though, in the here and now, being able to have Saturday night with family is what stands out for Kopitar.
“It’s obviously great,” Kopitar said, of his family’s involvement. “My wife surprised me with my dad flying in, my mom couldn’t make it, life just got in the way, but she was here a couple of weeks ago. Jakob came in and did the starting lineup and it was very, very cool to see.”
This particular record is one that comes with longevity, certainly, but it’s also a record of legacy and a record of loyalty. You’ve got to be at least old in hockey terms to play in nearly 1,300 games, a figure Kopitar is on track to reach by the end of the week. To be able to have done it all with one team makes it all the more special.
“One thing comes to mind is loyalty,” Kopitar said, of being able to be with one franchise for so long. “I’ve stressed it a ton of times and I guess it’s a lot easier to stay in one place when you’ve won already, versus maybe going and exploring other teams to try and win and everything, but I’ve felt great here, right from the start. All the GM’s, all the coaches I’ve had a good relationships and it’s definitely been a ride, but I guess the exciting part is it’s not quite finished. I still have a few more years and I feel good.”
It’s a special season to come for Kopitar and it will all be honored at a later date. Expect to see a more formal celebration than the one we saw on Saturday, as Kopitar approaches and eventually reaches several different milestones, records and accomplishments.
In the moment though, in the here and now, being able to have Saturday night was special and Kopitar is proud to have that moment, and every moment in the NHL, as a member of the LA Kings.
“I’m very honored to be a part of this organization, very honored to be a part of a couple of winning teams and just extremely happy to be here.”