Long Anže Kopitar interview on National Radio (Val 202) last Sunday (45 minutes)
Link (without footage)
<img src="/images/kopi6_big.jpg" align=left border=0>Anže Kopitar is only 19 years old but he is known all over Slovenia and by hockey fans around the world. Los Angeles went crazy after him and even some graffiti with his image appeared in the city. Trainers adore him, teammates talk about him in superlatives and Kings fans have even started Kopitarian fan religion.
Those who were at the recent games of Slovenian national team probably couldn't count right how many jerseys with number 11 were in the Hall. And who is Anže Kopitar when he takes off his skates and becomes a teenager again? Has America changed him and what kind of influence has his father Matjaž Kopitar our legendary hockey player? Is comparison with Wayne Gretzky overrated or Slovenians have got an athlete of world format? Enough reasons to invite Anže Kopitar in front of our microphone, a king and a King.
Five games for 5th participation of Slovenia in the elite hockey group. Best forward of the World Championship Division 1 Anže Kopitar welcome and good morning.
Was last night too short?
“Yeah it was a bit short. We were celebrating our promotion to the elite hockey group and we had a great time.”
You’ve earned this celebration. This week all the things in Slovenia were put aside because of the hockey.
“Yeah it’s great that we’ve put hockey in the middle of attention again. Also the ambiance in the Hall was great and as I said before I must thank all the fans.”
Last game against Lithuania wasn’t pretty. Was psychological preparation hard because you’ve managed to win the first place at the tournament a game before the last?
“Our great wish to win was nevertheless present but maybe not so much as the games before. But we players said we must win this last game to thank our fans so that they could see one last good show. The game wasn’t the best to watch because there was a lot of dirty play involved but also these kinds of games are part of hockey. Important is that we won yesterday.”
But your puck just couldn’t enter the goal. You were great with assists and at the end the best forward of the tournament. It seems that you enjoy also in this kind of game.
“Of course. Puck really didn’t want to go in but as I said before important is that Slovenia managed to return to the elite group of world hockey and it doesn’t matter how many goals I score because I’m satisfied also with assists.”
Penalty shot at yesterday’s game. What went on in your head? Were your legs heavy? Was it difficult?
“No, it wasn’t difficult. It’s just that goalie surprised me a bit because he stayed inside the goal and when he wanted to punch the puck with his stick I just took a shot and unfortunately the puck didn’t go in.”
How about that time when you put Brodeur to the ground for the Kings victory against New Jersey? That penalty shot was decisive.
“Yeah that was a bit different. I can say that at that point my hands were shaking quite a bit. But when I started to skate against him I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it and I just did what I thought was best at the time and I hoped I’d score. And I did.”
When do you usually decide about the way you’ll shoot? Is that a moment when you take the puck with your stick in the middle of the rink?
“I have a decision in my head before that. And when I skate towards the goal I can see the movement of the goalie. If he stays inside the goal I just take a shot and if he goes out I try to dribble. Yesterday Lithuania's goalie surprised me because he stayed in the goal and sadly it didn’t work.”
Do you feel that that your life is like a blossoming field this last year
“Yeah I can say I’m satisfied with my life. I enjoy every minute of it although I have many obligations and have to be more disciplined. But this was my decision and I’m 100% okay with it.”
How do you feel with the time difference? Ten days ago you practically went from the plane straight on the ice to help our team.
“Yeah first three days were quite exhausting. The third day everything just went out of me and I felt very bad. But I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t want this to be the reason for possible bad play. It was my responsibility and my goal was to play as best as I could.”
Do people in LA, in California, in USA know a lot about hockey? Here only women admit that they know little about this game.
“In LA are many teams like Lakers, Clippers, Kings and on the top of everything Hollywood. And the majority of population don’t know a lot about hockey. They know about basketball better and about movie stars of course. So we’re a bit aside.”
And here in Slovenia are many coaches on the tribunes.
“Yeah they are. I didn’t hear them on the ice but the atmosphere was fantastic.”
Coach Ted Sator was most satisfied with team’s hard defense. Were you talking a lot about it in the locker room?
“Yeah the guys probably had conversations about the importance of defense few days before I arrived. And Ted told us that we must try to be the team with the least goals against. And we managed to do that. We also agreed that the best defense is to attack and we tried to spend the majority of time in front of opponents' goals and tried to score.”
Was the decision about this kind of defense made by your forwards?
“Yeah of course. We knew that we have four good lines and that each can score. And we showed that on the ice. We tried to play aggresive and to be attractive for the fans.”
How do you get along with Ted Sator?
“So far I worked with three different coaches in the national team (also with Savolainen and Vyborny). The discipline was on a very high level with Savolainen. I wouldn’t say that now is different but he showed us that real Scandinavian discipline. And our play was more defensive because we just entered the elite hockey group for the first time. I had no problems with any of them and they all are on a very high level.”
Three and a half years ago you were playing in elite hockey group in Latvia for the first time. Your arrival this year was very important because our team didn’t play very well at the preliminary games. How did you feel the pressure? Because everybody expected you’ll be the key player of this team?
“I knew about these expectations. I just tried to put them aside and to do my best. Some pressure of course remained in my head but I was not the only one. Also the other players felt the same. Because everyone expected Slovenia to win the tournament. I just said to myself I’ll play the way I know and the result was great.”
But you stood behind your statement “I wont be the only one who will put Slovenia back to the elite hockey group” all the way?
“Of course. I was only one of the 22 players who were responsible for this result. We had an excellent goalie Andrej Hočevar, our defensemen have been always on the spot. Too bad that Ivo Jan was injured. He scored that hat trick very easy. Tomaž Razingar scored on every game, Rodman brothers and Gregor Polončič, Hafner brothers… I can’t name all of them but I can say the guys were great and I have to congratulate them for the will they showed.”
Your roommate in Hotel Lev was Andrej Hočevar, best goalie of the tournament. Very successful room tandem.
“Yeah Andrej and I were together also at the qualifications for the Olympics. I was a rookie in the team and he was inside a year longer. We younger guys usually stick together and we have the same rooms. I get along with him very well and he takes care of me in the room (laugh).”
You’re both professionals. Another similarity.
“Yeah that’s the way it is. Each of us has our own rituals and we support each other and this is the most important.”
Anže after this song you’ve chosen we go to America. (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Anže Kopitar our Sunday guest at Val 202.
In 2001 Slovenia managed to ascend for the first time in history to the elite hockey group which followed in 2002 in Sweden. That was one of the fairytales of Slovenian sport so far. You’ve managed to repeat this fairytale. Maybe in a bigger scale because next year at 100 anniversary of hockey the host is Canada, homeland of this game. What every hockey player dreams from the childhood will come true.
“Yeah. We know that Canada is THE hockey land and number one in the world as far as I’m concerned. I’ve had an opportunity this season to play a few times in Canada and you can really feel the euphoria and how big hockey is there. And now they’ll host the World Championship. I think that the Canadian team will be very strong and many spectators will attend all the games.”
Is Hockey in Canada more than sport? Is it the way of life, a religion?
“I would say yes. Also Kings players who played in Canada before told me that playing in Canada and USA is like day and night. In the States you can walk freely on the streets and in Canada you don’t have any peace.”
How do fans treat you in the States? Do they ask you for your autographs, wait for you before and after the games? Did you sign many autographs also here in Slovenia?
“Yeah I had to sign many. In the States we really have great fans especially in LA. We were second last in the Western conference but we often played in sold out Staples Center. This shows that we have true and loyal fans.”
Anže you want to be in the playoffs with Kings next season. Soon after that the Championship in Canada starts. With crown or lynx on your chest?
“As I said before I would rather wear crown. Because playing in the NHL playoffs would be something really special. Players who were part of it told me that the atmosphere is unbelievable and halls are sold out... I wish to be a part of this very much. And if we won’t make it next year I will certainly wear lynx on my chest.”
Mike Kadar was condition and convalescence trainer in LA. This kind of function is not known here. To prepare a player who was injured in this way.
“Yeah he prepares players during and also before the season. This year Rok Pekol was in the same role in Jesenice and he did a great job because guys were very well prepared. Mike helps the player after the injury, looks after him more, gives him special exercises to strengthen the muscles. This was the main reason why he came with me from LA. Kings have sent him to take care of me because of my recent back injury. So that I wouldn’t do something stupid. And he had also a wish to see how these things go in Europe. He contacted Ted Sator and then helped also to some other players in the national team.”
Until now you’ve had luck with injuries. Most of the hockey players are scared of them. What do you think about that?
“I think that more you’re careful more bad things can happen and injuries appear faster. I just go and play the game and don’t think about injuries. If I’ll have a bad luck it’s sad. But I can’t play all the time the way not to get injured. If we players thought about that the games wouldn’t be as they should be.”
Lets go to psychology. Psychologists are part of the hockey teams in North America.
“Yeah but I didn’t have any problems with that. In preparation camp I knew I’m physically fit and well prepared and that all I have to do is in my head. When I managed to enter the team was great for my confidence and after the season started I was very successful. The two goals I scored in my first game helped me a lot. I saw that I could play in NHL and I just tried to continue in the same way.”
How did you feel at the tests before the season? Nothing is left behind in NHL?
“I went there prepared as well as I could be. I did my tests before the camp, trainers saw me and my play and I was lucky that I didn’t fall into some of their special programme.”
Are these memories painful?
“Every test is hard in a way and this was my decision. This is my job and my life and I have to be a professional. I’d been training for two months off the ice, running and training in fitness. And then followed seven months of joy on the ice.”
Many young people got carried off in California. How did you avoid that?
“I basically knew why I went there. To play hockey not to do anything stupid. That was in my head through the season and I think I was successful.”
Your youth was special. Do you think you’ve missed teenager years?
“Yes I do. Many times when my schoolmates invited me to the movies or to the disco I knew I have an early training the next day so I just stayed at home.”
Europe and America. Two different worlds in lifestyles and in hockey. What kind of differences did you notice?
“If I compare Sweden and USA: hockey in Sweden is much more defensive oriented. And this doesn’t suit me. I prefer offensive style of play. In life are also many differences. Swedes are more calm and polite and Americans are very open and life goes very fast in the States.”
You went to Sweden when you were 16 years old. Is this the right approach for a youngster with a clear goal to become a hockey player?
“I can say that was the right way for me. And I had my head on the right place. I decided to go there because I couldn’t progress in Slovenia. I played with older guys all the time, won the first place at the Youth Championship, then I played for team Kranjska Gora in the national league. I knew this was the last step in Slovenia and had to move forward.”
In the national league you played against your father, when he played for team Maribor. He said he wouldn’t want to go through that ever again. And you?
“Me either. We talked a lot about that game and he told me he tried to avoid me and to stay on the bench when I was on the ice. It wasn’t very good. The fans just stood there and waited that we will collide a couple of times or that he’ll knock me to the ice. And we really collided one time and we both fell and everybody just laughed. They got what they wanted. I think it’s easier to play against my brother.”
What kind of education did you have at home?
“I had quite a hard education. But now I have to thank to all of them - mum, dad, grandmum, grandfather. They always stood behind me and helped me in any way. We often quarreled but in general… Now that I look back I can say that my family helped me most.”
And you managed to negotiate a bit longer hair…
“Well father wasn’t very pleased at the beginning but now he is okay with it. I’ll wear it also in the future as long as I’ll feel good.”
What kind of talk do you have with your father after the games where you’re both involved like on this Championship? He is assistant coach and you’re a player. Is he calm or critical?
“At home we always try to stay away from hockey. Of course I often ask him what could I do better in a certain situation and he tells me what he thinks it would be the best to do. We talk in this way. Some critics were at the beginning when I was younger and had some bad games but I know that he just wanted the best for me.”
We will continue after this song you’ve chosen (Siddharta).
Anže when did you have time for school?
“I admit I had very little time for school. I can say that hockey went parallel with it. My grandmum wasn’t very pleased with that. She was professor at Primary school and she always pressed me to finish school.”
How was with school in Sweden?
“Schoolmates were sending me notes and homework through e-mails but it was very hard. And also my self discipline wasn’t on a very high level. Not for school anyway. When I came home I wanted to continue but I was at home for two weeks then went away for a week then I was back again for a week… It was very hard to finish the class. And I just couldn’t study on my travels. And I also can’t study in LA. At the moment school waits for me. I’ve finished two classes of Gymnasium and hope that some day it’ll finish it properly.”
How do you communicate with home? Has e-mail burned out yet?
“Yeah and mobile phone. I usually communicate through MSN which is great and cheap way because phone can be very expensive.”
Anže what do you like to do in life besides hockey?
“When I was little I was always involved in sport. I played basketball and soccer on the home yard, tennis… I go also to the movies. Otherwise I’m more into sport.”
Do you support any other club besides hockey?
“I follow LA Lakers also because Saša Vujačič plays there. Otherwise I follow Real Madrid as much as I can.”
When you’re alone what do you do?
“Basically I’m dreaming. When I’m free I’m just dreaming (laugh). I just relax because life is so fast and such quiet days are rare. I look at some movies on DVD and I dream.”
What do you dream about?
“Just about everything.”
You’ll spend some of your holidays in the middle of the Adriatic sea. With family I suppose? Will you go back to LA before the start of the season?
“I don’t know. Before I left LA I talked with our management and they said it would be good If I come back for a week or two during the summer. Maybe in July but nothing has been decided yet. And during our vacation we will go to the island of Hvar in Croatia.”
Will your girlfriend Ines have the opportunity to be close to you now when the season and this Championship is over?
“Yeah definitely. We talked about our vacation and we’ll spend a week or two alone somewhere by the sea.”
And now at this afternoon? Will you go home to Jesenice?
“Right now I’m heading to Maribor to see Ines and to see my friends there.”
Help of your family was very important in your life. We talked about that. But if you weren’t so in love with hockey these success wouldn’t be possible. It’s probably hard to explain to the people that everything comes second for such success in sport.
“Yeah when we were at the Gymnasium and the hormones started to work and people started to go out and things… I would like to do that also but it just didn’t go like that. They couldn’t understand me. But if you want to be a professional athlete night life is out of the question. It just doesn’t go together.”
Have you had any moments on LA beach in your free time?
“Definitely. Walk on the beach is the most relaxing thing.”
Anže you have a wish to beat one of the top seven teams next year in Canada. Do your teammates think the same?
“Of course. We talked about this. And the progress from year 2001 when Slovenia entered elite hockey group is obvious. Those first games were hard. In Poland was a bit easier and this year we managed to win this tournament quite easy not to underestimate the other teams. This group wasn’t so hard as the one in China but we are definitely better. Also Jesenice team plays in a quality league with three games a week and now Olimpija will enter the same league and this will help our hockey to develop even more. And it’s just a matter of time when one of these top seven teams will fall.”
Your brother Gašper is also a hockey player?
“Yeah. This year he was the national champion with Jesenice team (under 18 team). He is very tall and strong and I hope he’ll become a very good hockey player.”
Will he move with you and your mum to LA next season?
“This is a big question right now. We will discuss it now in the summer and decide what is best for me, mum and Gašper.”
Anže how do you survive travels, two trainings a day and many hours in the hotels? Are you immune for these things? Or you know exactly what is your business in those cities?
“Yeah. That’s the way it is. I just had to get use to that. It doesn’t help in any way if you’re in the bad mood because you can’t change that. Older players know these cities and they usually take us out to the dinner to bring up our energy. And at the end it’s not so hard as everyone thinks.”
LA Kings have a young team. How did older players treat you as a rookie?
“If I tell the truth I didn’t have a feeling to be a rookie in a locker room. Older and also younger players who are my competition in a way welcomed me very nice and I felt great. They didn’t treat me as a 19 years old kid and they were very professional.”
You’ll be 20 years old in August. You’re a star. What do you think about that in your head?
“I had some talks with my dad about that. I managed to succeed in hockey with hard work and I have to stay with my feet firmly on the ground. I want to stay the same person as I was before. Someone can take offence at me if I say a wrong word. So I have to be careful. I’ll try to stay the same Anže as I was before I went to America.”
We all want that. Anže Kopitar thank you for the elite hockey group and for this conversation.
“Thank you very much.”