Manor Kings Rookie History and Kopitar Reflects on His U.S. Arrival

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Late last week, we reported the Kings are set to host the 2024 NHL Rookie Faceoff in El Segundo this coming September. As has been the case for several years now, the tournament will feature six teams total, including the Kings, Ducks, Sharks, Coyotes, Avalanche, and Golden Knights.

Just like the Kings held an outdoor game in Las Vegas decades before those type of events became all the rage around the league, origins of the Rookie Faceoff can actually be traced back to the Pacific Division Shootout, an event initially hosted by Los Angeles in 2003. It was a four-team affair back then and following that inaugural tournament, Anaheim (2004) and San Jose (2005) played host before things returned to the Kings training facility one final time in 2006.

It was the Pacific Division Shootout that laid much of the groundwork for what has now become a much bigger attraction rebranded as the NHL Rookie Faceoff. Even in its earlier inception, though, those early gathering of rookies were no slouch. They included several players who went on to have rather successful NHL careers — names like Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Joe Pavelski.

LOOKING BACK AT ROOKIE HISTORY​


2003 Pacific Division Shootout

Here’s the roster for 2003’s inaugural event played at the Kings training facility in El Segundo:

LAK-2003-RookieNHL.jpg


Among the players who participated was an 18-year-old Dustin Brown, in what was some of his first real exposure to the team’s operations. He was drafted by the club only a few months prior, taken 13th overall in the first round.

Back then, the event had a slightly different format, in that each team played a total of four games — three preliminary round games, one each against the other three teams, and then a single ‘playoff’ game. Essentially, the top two teams met in a championship game as their fourth contest, while the third and fourth place teams squared off in a ‘bronze medal’ game.

In one of their preliminary round games, the Kings shutout the Sharks 5-0. They also played well against the Ducks and Coyotes. Eventually, though, LA had to settle for second place after they were bested by Arizona 3-1 with the event title on the line. Meanwhile, San Jose took third place by downing Anaheim 4-2 in the consolation game.

2004 Pacific Division Shootout

In year two, the event was hosted by Anaheim. Here’s who LA brought to the tournament:

LAK-2004-Rookie.jpg


Brown was back for his second Shootout. The prior year, he played 31 games for the Kings before being shutdown with an ankle injury. Following the 2004 event, the NHL Lockout wiped out the regular season. However, not for Brown and several other Kings prospects. He was sent to AHL Manchester, where he scored 29 goals and was essentially a point-per-game player (74 points in 79 games).

As for the Rookie event, LA would again have to settle for second place. Their preliminary games included a 3-2 overtime victory over Anaheim. SoCal native Noah Clarke scored two goals, including the game winner. Petr Kanko had the other Kings goal.

In their second game, the Ducks picked up a 6-2 win over the Sharks. Corey Perry had a goal for Anaheim and Ryan Getzlaf chipped in with four assists.

LA produced more goals than any other team in either the Shootout or Rookie Faceoff history with and 11-2 drubbing of the Coyotes later that same day. Kanko was at it again, scoring four goals and adding an assist for good measure. Clarke also had a multi-point game, notching a goal and an assist.

The Kings and Sharks tied 3-3 in the final preliminary game in 2004. LA showed plenty of resiliency in that game too, going down 3-0 in the first period and finding a way to eventually even the score with second period goals by Mike Lukajic and Denis Grebeshkov, followed by a Greg Hogeboom short-handed goal. There wasn’t a shootout, so the game was recorded as a tie after a scoreless overtime session. Even so, the Kings had secured enough points in the standings to again play for the Shootout championship.

It was the Anaheim Mighty Ducks skating to a 7-2 win over the Kings, leaving LA as the bridesmaid once again. Curtis Glencross scored a hat trick to help seal things for the host team. Getzlaf and Dustin Penner also scored for the Ducks.

2005 Pacific Division Shootout

Anze Kopitar gave people a quick taste of what he could potentially mean for the Kings when he came over to North America for the 2005 Shootout held in San Jose. A few months prior, LA had selected Kopitar 11th overall at the NHL Draft.

This is who else LA brought to the tournament:

LAK-2005-Rookie.jpg


LA played preliminary round games against Anaheim, Arizona, and San Jose. They again didn’t claim the championship, despite some strong individual efforts from several prospects.

Following the event, Kopitar returned to Europe for one final season of hockey. He skated in 47 games for Sodertalje SK in the Swedish Elite League, recording 20 points (8G, 12A).

2005 Pacific Division Shootout

For what ended up being the final Shootout, Kopitar returned and was ready to take a run at making the Kings roster. Better yet, he was able to do it in front of the hometown fans, as LA was once again tapped to host the event. Here is the Kings roster from that year:

LAK-2006-Rookie.jpg


LA accumulated a 2-1 record in preliminary games via the following scores:

Kings 6, Ducks 5
Kings 3, Sharks 2
Coyotes 4, Kings 2

While Kopitar stole all the headlines for LA in 2006, Pavelski was the unlikely star for San Jose. He scored three goals in the tournament, including two in their final game. A seventh-round selection by the Sharks, he was targeted for the AHL that season. However, his play in the tournament caught the eye of Sharks GM Doug Wilson, who said — “He has been very strong on faceoffs all week long. That gets him out on the ice in key situations and getting that experience will help him grow. His game in all areas of the ice is very well-rounded.” Following the tournament, Pavelski would go to only play only 16 AHL games before a late November call-up.

Ironically enough, ‘Little Joe’ was recalled by the Sharks and made his NHL debut in a 6-3 win over the Kings, scoring his first NHL goal that night too. Pavelski never looked back, going on to play 1,296 NHL games and counting.

In a little more Sharks trivia from that same game against the Kings in Nov. 2006, defenseman Marc-Édouard Vlasic (who has since played over 1,200 NHL games too) scored his first NHL goal that night, as well. Along with Pavelski and Kopitar, that trio had played in the Pacific Division Shootout event just a few months prior and were now well on their way to making their marks on a much bigger stage.

Below are some pictures of Kopitar, Perry, Trevor Lewis, and goalie Yutaka Fukufuji at the 2006 Shootout (select images courtesy of Jon Swenson).

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Perry2006.jpg
Fukufuji2006.jpg

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KOPITAR’S TOURNAMENT MEMORIES​


Now having played more games in a Kings uniform, and with two Stanley Cups — along with numerous NHL trophies — to his name, it’s only inevitable that one day Kopitar will be enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame and eventually have his familiar No. 11 jersey retired into the rafters at Cryto.com Arena.

However, in a little-known piece of trivia, he didn’t start out as No. 11. When he first came over for the 2005 Pacific Division Shootout, he wore No. 52 for those small handful of tournament games and a couple of Kings preseason games.

Kopitar52_Kings_MayorsManor.jpg

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“That first tournament in San Jose; I remember it was like a whole new world for me,” he told Mayor’s Manor earlier today. “Obviously, it was a lot different than playing in a Junior league in Sweden, with all the big, high-ranking prospects and all that stuff. So, it was hard, but it was also an eye-opening experience. That was a fun time.”

When he came back to LA for his second Shootout the following year, Kopitar didn’t have quite the same nerve-racking week as had in 2005.

“In the second one, we hosted,” he began. “I remember, I felt a lot more comfortable the second time around. I had a good tournament and I think that’s why I made the Kings team that year.”

What about that initial No. 52 jersey?

“I’ve always assumed that 52 was assigned to me that first year because I wore No. 25 for our national team,” noted Kopitar.

“Back when I was still wearing a cage at the World Championship,” he added with one of his trademark smirks and a soft chuckle. “Then, the next year, I showed up and they gave me No. 11 right away.”

And apparently, why No. 11 was selected has remained a bit of a mystery, even to this day.

“I kept asking Dean [Lombardi] and Grange [Kings Head Equipment Manager Darren Granger] and nobody could give me a straight answer. That’s it!”

Never one to leave a story without an ending, we reached out to Lombardi a few hours later to ask if he had any recollection at all as to why No. 11 was assigned to Kopitar that year.

“The only thing I can think of is that there were always a limited quantity of numbers available for rookies and the GM was an old school fuddy duddy that did not want any of his players to have numbers in the 80s and 90s because he thought it subtracted from the team-first psyche,” Lombardi responded via text. “To Kopitar’s credit, he never sought to follow the trend of the young upstarts with offensive linemen numbers.”

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