I didn’t want this to get lost in all the Marc Crawford news, but Don did a real nice interview with Anze Kopitar recently. Obviously the interview took place before Tuesday’s news, but it’s still a good chance to catch up with Kopitar and hear about his experiences at the World Championships and his…trip to Egypt? Here’s a video of Kopitar at the World Championships, followed by the Q&A…
His team’s NHL season didn’t go so well and his country failed to win a single game in the recent World Championship tournament, but Anze Kopitar has a reason to be happy.
In just his second NHL season, Kopitar, who turns 21 in August, played in all 82 games and improved on his freshman statistics by netting 32 goals and chipping in with 45 assists. He also managed to score three of the six goals scored by his native Slovenia in the World Championship.
Kopitar is currently relaxing in Slovenia, and says it is a tad crazy there right now with President Bush paying the country a visit.
Q&A: Anze Kopitar
Question: Tell me a little bit about the difference in two NHL seasons for you, the one of a rookie sensation and the one of a sophomore expected to provide scoring and leadership.
Kopitar: Well, it was definitely different, but I think the guys let me know that they were really comfortable around me and that’s how I felt too. The first year coming in, you know I wasn’t really sure what was going on when I made the team and everyone was helping and giving advice, which was really cool. Now this year my expectations and probably everyone’s expectations were a lot higher. I think it (leadership) is something I expect, and I see myself as a leader and I think other people do too and I think that is great.
Question: How difficult was this past season for you?
Kopitar: It is always difficult when you are on a losing team and it was very frustrating. We lost a lot of games by one goal and I think that maybe experience-wise that was good for us. but like I said it was definitely frustrating. I think after that long east coast swing we played really good hockey and beat some very good teams and showed ourselves that we can play well. We just have to stay consistent, get some experience and believe in it.
Question: We spoke during the season and you mentioned that you are not here to be a superstar or see yourself on the highlight reels, but how difficult is it to be a rising star on a losing team?
Kopitar: Well, it is pretty difficult. Of course you want to be able to help the team and at the same time you have to contribute. You want the team to win and it is pretty frustrating when it isn’t. My goal was to go out and work as hard as I could and help my teammates get better and do that on and off the ice. It was definitely a hard season, but that is pretty much a challenge you have to face and you just go out and work as hard as you can every night.
Question: Can you put your finger on precisely what the main issue was with the Kings this last season?
Kopitar: Well, I’m not going to point fingers or anything. We just had a young team and everybody was frustrated during the season because we were losing. I just think experience is a big part of that and feeling comfortable with each other. We’ve gotten to know each other better so that is coming. You know I think we are going to stay pretty much the same, with the same guys this coming season so I think we will be even more comfortable.
Question: Were you satisfied with your season?
Kopitar: I was pretty satisfied. I took a step forward from my first year, but I think there is still room for improvement. I am really looking forward to the next season so I can see that improvement and help make my teammates better and get the team on some good streaks and have a good season and ultimately some playoff action in April. That is the goal and that is what every single guy in the room wants.
Question: When you watch a guy like Evgeni Malkin, who has a similar frame, and you see how can throw his body around a little bit, do you feel that you will add that physical element to your game in years to come?
Kopitar: Oh yeah, I think I will. You definitely have to be strong to do that, and I have to work on my strength and maybe be a bit more physical in my defensive game. That is definitely a challenge for me to get better in my overall game and at the same time continue to contribute offensively.
Question: I’ll only ask a single question about the World Championships. How was that experience for you this year?
Kopitar: It was a good experience, especially since it was in Canada, where hockey is so big. Most of our guys didn’t know that. It was still a good experience even though the team did not do good. We went out of the A pool to the B pool, but that’s the way it is. If it you look at it realistically, we just weren’t good enough for the A pool, but we are optimistic for next year that we can win and get out of the B pool and get back in the A pool.
Question: What is it like to be a hockey player in Los Angeles? Are you recognized outside the rink?
Kopitar: You get recognized in some parts. We have a really good fan base in L.A., with really passionate fans. I think everybody who watches hockey in L.A. recognizes me on the street. It is such a calm city, and sure there are plenty of people who don’t even know what hockey is, but sometimes that is good so that you don’t get bothered when you go out for some lunch or something, but it does feel pretty good when people recognize you.
Question: Did it surprise you that Los Angeles had a fairly vocal group of fans when you first got here?
Kopitar: I didn’t know what to expect, but I was surprised that there were so many fans and they were really loud all the time, supporting us and we have a great number at every game. The better we do the more people will come out and the whole city will support us and that will be great.
Question: So you’ve had a few weeks away from the game; have you had the chance to unwind and do something fun?
Kopitar: I actually went to Egypt for a one week vacation and now I’m starting to get into my routine of working out and getting ready for the season.
Question: Had you been to Egypt before?
Kopitar: It was my first time and I was pretty excited to see other parts of the world that you don’t have the chance to do every day. It was pretty exciting.
Question: Have you had the chance to play any tennis yet?
Kopitar: No, not yet, but I want to start soon. I just have to find a partner out here that can play with me every day (laughs).
Question: What’s the best part of your tennis game?
Kopitar: You know, for an amateur, my serve is pretty good.
Question: Two-handed backhand, or one hand?
Kopitar: Oh, always two-handed with the backhand.
Question: Any recent movies for you?
Kopitar: I haven’t really seen many lately. Oh, I saw “21″ when I was back in the states.
Question: What is Anze Kopitar’s review of “21?”
Kopitar: Oh, it was a mystery for sure (laughs).