“There’s a bunch of memories. You always remember the first one and just certain games along the way and the experiences that you can share with your teammates, which at the end of the day, is what it’s all about to share them with your teammates, with your family, with the fanbase. It’s a lot of excitement, it’s a very humbling feeling to be able to do it for this long and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.”
A special night ahead for Kings captain Anze Kopitar.
Prior to tomorrow’s game, he’ll be honored for a slew of records broken, most notably setting the mark for the most games played in LA Kings franchise history. There’s scoring marks in there as well, as Kopitar became the all-time leader in assists, as well as a 400-goal mark that shows just how truly underrated his goalscoring ability has been over the years.
It’s the games played mark that stands out most for Kopitar, who has done it all as an LA King, as he’s been among the most durable players in the league along the way. At the end of the day, they’re all just numbers to him, but the ability to do it at the rate he has is a standout.
“Honestly, they’re just numbers to me,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of everything and they’re pretty good numbers and all that, but as of right now, I think it’s going to hit me more when I have time to actually think about it and reflect on it. I think if I have to pinpoint one, it’s probably games played versus game missed, really. I’ve been fortunate enough and I guess durable enough to not miss very many games and I guess that would be the one.”
The man he surpassed for the games played mark, Dustin Brown, will be in attendance tomorrow evening to watch his longtime teammate and lifelong friend honored before the game.
Perhaps not a bad time for a visit from Brownie, with the team mired in a difficult slump.
“It’s always nice to have him around, he brings his goofiness and the jokes and everything else, just lightens the mood a little bit,” Kopitar said of Brown. “There’s no secret that it’s been a little frustrating lately but having him around, it’s a good refresher.”
Kopitar’s parents – Matjaz and Mateja – and his brother Gasper will also be in attendance, as well as his wife Ines and his children, Neza and Jakob. A special group to honor Kopitar’s special night.
His father is a hockey mind in his own right, as a former player and the current coach of the Slovenian National hockey team. He’s a part of a strong support system for Kopitar, who has leaned on that group as a crutch for him over the years. Having them all in Los Angeles this week makes a special night that much more so.
“[My dad’s] been there all along, the whole family was, and it’s obviously very nice to have a support system like that, that you can lean on and sometimes whine about stuff, but they set you straight, that’s why they’re there. He knows a good moment to give me a kick in the [butt] or a good moment to just listen and for me to let it out. It’s obviously a blessing for me to have.”
Kopitar’s still got that desire to be pushed. He still has the desire to succeed, both individually and as a part of the Kings collective.
This is a 36-year-old player who has climbed the mountain twice already. A two-time champion, as you all know, who is still driven each and every day to turn that two into a three. It’s the challenges of this season that continue to drive Kopitar and the Kings, even during these most difficult of times. It’s been a very tough stretch here for the Kings, but not every part of the climb is a flat road. There are inclines and hills along the way, which make the challenge that much more worth it.
“The challenges are what drive us every day, it’s trying to get better as an individual, trying to figure out some new stuff as a team,” he said. “Like I said before, it’s the experiences with your teammates and the climb, it’s fun for the most part, there’s parts that really stink, and they’re not fun and they’re frustrating, all of the above, but at the end of the day, like I said before, this is why we’re here. It’s exciting, it’s fun, you want to do it. It’s hard work, but that’s what makes it special.”
Kopitar knows special.
He’s been there before and been through stretches of games like this before. He’s come through the other side better for it. That’s not to say this team is the 2012 Kings team, that snuck into the postseason and did historic things. This team is pretty far ahead in the standings of where that team came from, so the base is higher, but what that group did in the playoffs really can’t be replicated. What can, though, are the elements of adversity that Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Trevor Lewis went through on that ride. That’s something to build on right now.
“It’s arguably the hardest trophy to win in sports, so it’s never easy,” Kopitar added. “The season has its ups and downs and if you look at the ’12 season, we were on the very outside looking in with 20 games left, so saying that, we’re still in a good position right now, even though we’re not doing very great, but it’s something that you’ve got to work towards and build the character, grow as a team and just battle through it.”
Who's coming to Legend in the Making night tomorrow? 🙋♂️
— LA Kings (@LAKings) January 23, 2024
As Kopitar reflected back, to 2012, to 2014, to his memorable debut in 2006, he’s drawn to how much things like climbing through adversity have remained the same, despite playing in a league, within the game of hockey that’s changed so much.
When Kopitar broke into the league, lineup construction was that of a top six, a shutdown/checking line and a physical, bruising line. That was pretty standard around the NHL. In today’s game, you might have four lines capable of scoring, capable of playing with skill. Players like Kopitar have had to adapt and he’s done so as well as most. Those changes have brought more speed, more pace into the game. Kopitar’s never been the fastest of skaters but his hockey IQ and his understanding of the game have always kept him one step ahead of the play, no matter how much speed is on the ice around him.
It’s that which makes him such a unique and special player.
In an era when it’s speed and skill that seems to be prioritized and honored, Kopitar is still a different breed. Plenty of skill to go around, but he’s one of the best 200-foot forwards to ever play the game. The offensive accolades he’s being honored for tomorrow night show that he’s plenty good at that end of the ice, but he’s never cheated the game for offense. Imagine where he might be numbers wise if he had. Even now, when the Kings have brought in support down the middle to help lighten the load, he’s never taken that as a directive to cut down that 200 number into anything less.
He’s done it that way, because that’s what it takes. That’s what winners do.
As he continues to move forward, he’ll keep on moving down the same path. It’s the only path he’s taken throughout his career and it’s the path he’s found success on. With this season’s Kings team still harboring aspirations of big things together, despite recent form, Kopitar remains in pursuit of another chance at the ultimate goal. He’ll embrace the individual honor tomorrow, as will his teammates and coaches. Then, it’s back on the hunt for what matters most to him.
“There’s nothing more satisfying than battling through it and figuring it out as a team, going on a run and hopefully be the last team standing.”