PRE-TRAINING CAMP COVERAGE: Frozen Royalty continues its pre-training camp coverage with a look at Los Angeles Kings star center Anze Kopitar, his recovery from a serious leg/ankle injury near the end of the 2010-11 regular season, and his outlook for the coming year.
LOS ANGELES — Late last season, although they were not exactly leaving a trail of melting ice behind them at the time, the Los Angeles Kings were heading into the playoffs with serious hopes of at least advancing to the second round.
But on March 26, 2011, when star center Anze Kopitar suffered a broken right ankle and torn ligaments in a freakish fall late in the second period of a 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche, Staples Center became as quiet as it has ever been during a game, as everyone in the building knew what Kopitar meant to the Kings and their playoff chances.
When Kopitar was helped off the ice and down the tunnel to the Kings dressing room, one could feel the air being sucked out of the building. Indeed, at that instant, fans were crestfallen, realizing that their team’s hopes of getting out of the first round of the playoffs were, for all intents and purposes, doomed.
Against the San Jose Sharks in the first round, the Kings showed signs of being able to stay with the Sharks, but without Kopitar, the Sharks prevailed, eliminating the Kings in six games.
Although not having Kopitar in the lineup was not the determining factor in the series, the absence of one of the top defensive forwards in the National Hockey League allowed Sharks star center Joe Thornton to finally become a big factor in the playoffs—he was their best, most effective player in the series.
Kopitar underwent successful surgery to repair the damage, and has been doing rehabilitation work all summer.
“It’s been a good summer for me,” said Kopitar. “The rehab went really well, and I’ve been skating for about a month-and-a-half already. It feels good. I feel like I’m 100 percent.”
Speaking to reporters at the Kings’ HockeyFest ’11 event, held at Staples Center in Los Angeles on September 11, 2011, Kopitar explained the exact nature of his injury, something that was left rather nebulous due to differing explanations released by the Kings, and from head coach Terry Murray after the injury occurred.
“I had a broken fibula, and I tore the tibia-fibula ligament, where the tibia and fibula come down to the joint,” Kopitar explained. “[Because] I tore that, the bones pretty much spread apart. It wasn’t too pretty, but they repaired it, and it feels good now.”
“The Kings medical staff did a great job, as did the conditioning coach,” Kopitar elaborated. “We’ve been in contact pretty much the whole summer. The bottom line is that I feel good now, and I feel like [I’m back at] 100 percent.”
Although the injury was very serious, Kopitar was not worried about his recovery as the summer wore on, and he even got a head start on his conditioning work while his teammates were battling the Sharks in the playoffs.
“[Kings right wing Justin Williams] had the same injury last year, and he came back in what…two-and-a-half months? So I knew I had plenty of time, and I didn’t want to push it [his rehab work] too hard,” said Kopitar. “I wanted to be fairly aggressive, but not over the top aggressive where I might damage the ankle again.”
“I was doing all the upper body workouts during the playoffs last year,” added Kopitar. “So [his workout schedule was different this past summer compared] to last year, but it didn’t affect my preparation for the season.”
Kopitar has been skating for a little over a month now, first getting back onto the ice in his hometown of Jesenice, Slovenia.
“I started skating at the end of July,” he noted. “That’s what I usually do. I was itching to get on the ice as fast as I could, but there’s not a whole lot of ice sheets during the summer back there, so I had to wait a little bit. Once I got on there, it was a little stiff, but it’s been getting better every week.”
Kopitar will have to deal with swelling in his ankle for awhile, a normal condition. But he is not experiencing pain.
“It’s not really pain,” he said. “It’s more an uncomfortable feeling, because it’s still a little swollen. The doctor said that it takes up to a year to get the swelling down, and that’s normal, so I’m not concerned about it.”
“I haven’t had any pain since I [started] skating,” he added. “It just feels a little stiff, because [of the swelling]. I’m sure I’m going to make a couple of adjustments to my skate, maybe stretch it out a little bit, or punch out the top of the skate where it’s bugging me, but no major changes.”
Kopitar believes that even though he has broken his right ankle and suffered ligament damage, the ankle is no more susceptible to injury than it was before.
“If anything, it’s probably stronger because there are some plates in there,” said Kopitar.
As for the question most everyone is asking, Kopitar shared his thoughts about what he expects from the 2011-12 Kings.
“If I go back to the first round of the playoffs last year, it felt really bitter after we [were eliminated],” he stressed. “We said to ourselves, not knowing who was going to come and who was going to go, that we’ve got to take the next step.”
“Now, with Mike [Richards], [Simon] Gagne, Ethan [Moreau], and Colin [Fraser], the team has gotten better. The expectations are higher, and we want to prove that to everybody else, too.”
Raw audio interview with Anze Kopitar (6:12; Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; requires Adobe Flash Player):
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