Kopitar Aims for Glory
Kopitar and his Los Angeles Kings team have sensationally qualified for the Stanley Cup finals after beating Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix in the Western Conference playoffs. This will be their second appearance in the Stanley Cup final after 1993 when they lost to Montreal in five games. The difference between Kopitar and other Slovenian champions of the North American major leagues (Rašo Nesterović, Beno Udrih and Saša Vujačić, all in the NBA) is that Kopitar plays a central role in his team, which is not the case with the basketball players.
The whole team including Kopitar, only began to excel in the playoffs. Having finished eighth in the regular season and barely qualifying for the playoffs, the Kings' form then really took off. Their playoff result was 12 wins from 14 matches. They became the first eighth seed to beat the top two seeds in the playoffs, only the eighth team since 1980 to win 12 of their first 14 playoff games and the only team in the history of the NHL to win all their away playoff games. Kopitar himself was no less successful, scoring six goals and 15 points.
Kopitar joined the Los Angeles team in 2005 as the eleventh pick and soon won the hearts of both the fans and professionals. Even the legendary Wayne Gretzky concedes that picking Kopitar was one of the keys that transformed his former team into a Stanley Cup contender.
The Los Angeles Kings are closely followed in Slovenia by both the media and ice-hockey fans and their matches are shown live on a sports channel. With the rare opportunity to watch a Slovenian in a leading role in one of the most prestigious sports events in the world, it seems that many more people will be ready to get up at 2am between 31 May and 14 June to watch the finals being played.
No EBEL for Jesenice
The Acroni Jesenice ice-hockey club was thrown out of the EBEL league after failing to meet the financial demands of the Austrian based league management. Their status was put on hold for a year, during which time they must improve their financial situation. Problems surfaced late last year and after all attempts failed, the key players left the legendary ice-hockey town of Jesenice. It now remains to be seen whether the club will be able to keep its professional status or if it is the beginning of the end for the cradle of ice-hockey in Slovenia.