EL SEGUNDO, CA — Prior to the start of tonight’s game against the Calgary Flames at Staples Center, the Los Angeles Kings will honor forward Dustin Brown, who played in his 1,112th regular season National Hockey League game, all with the Kings, on March 28, in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks in Vsncouver, breaking former Kings right wing Dave Taylor’s all-time franchise record of 1,111 games.
Honoring Brown will place a bit of a damper on the fact that barring unforeseen circumstances, center Anze Kopitar will play in his 1,000th regular season NHL game tonight, as well.
Kopitar will be honored for reaching this official NHL milestone prior to the Kings’ season finale on April 6, when they host the Vegas Golden Knights.
During a media conference call on March 31, Kopitar talked about reaching the milestone and doing it all with the Kings.
“It’s a pretty good achievement,” he said. “Being a kid from Slovenia, you always dream about playing in the NHL. To actually play in 1,000 games is pretty special. Most definitely, I’m going to need a little bit of time to let that sink in and think about what it means to me. But I’m very honored to be a part of the L.A. Kings organization for all of my games. I’m very blessed to be in this position and to be a part of this team.”
“It shows that Brownie and I have been doing something right around here, to stick around for [that many] games,” he added. “I’ve been very blessed to be a part of the Kings organization. It’s a first-class organization. They treat us right and for me to have the opportunity to play here and in 1,000 games, all with the Kings, it’s a great feeling for me, personally. I’ve obviously been here for [my entire] career, and it’s been really good, so far.”
For any NHL player, playing in 1,000 games is a tremendous accomplishment. But to do that at the elite level that Kopitar has played at throughout the vast majority of his NHL career elevates him to a higher level.
“He’s pretty much been our leading scorer just about every year for a decade,” said goaltender Jonathan Quick. “He brings such a calm presence to our locker room and to the ice, especially when we get into those high-pressure situations where you’re trying to win games to get into the playoffs or when you’re in playoff games. He’s just so consistent and calm and he just does his job. He really knows how to get his job done.”
Kopitar quickly opened interim head coach Willie Desjardins’ eyes.
“I think he’s an unbelievable player,” Desjardins noted. “I’ve been so impressed with him since I got here. I always knew he was good when I was in Vancouver, but I didn’t realize how good he was until I got here.”
“He’s a great player,” Desjardins added. “It’s been a tough year for him. I think he’s put lots of pressure on himself and he’s changed his game. Good players change their game when they see what the team needs…they’ll adjust their game to the team’s needs. He recognized early that we needed some scoring. He tried to put himself in situations where he was more offensive. You have to respect guys when they’ll adjust to the team’s needs.”
“When you watch the game, lots of times, he’s carrying guys on him and making plays. Most players can’t do that. If he gets the puck, he makes moves through the neutral zone and he makes it look so easy, where other guys are panicking, dumping the puck [into the offensive zone]. He’s strong enough and he skate through the zone.”
Kopitar has twice been recognized as the NHL’s best defensive forward as the league’s Frank J. Selke Trophy recipient in 2016 and 2018.
“He’s so good with being able to play both offensively and defensively,” Desjardins noted. “He’ll go up against the other top centers in the league because he’s great defensively. There are times, this year, that he’s carried us. Before Christmas, he was unbelievable. He has the ability to put the team on his back and to carry it.”
“Every part of his game—he’s [been] up for the Selke [Trophy, most valuable player]—he’s a guy when you’re talking about those trophies, his name comes up,” Desjardins added. “That’s a pretty complete player. Not often does a [forward] who’s great defensively get named for the other side of the awards. He really does have it all and it’s not just his skill. It’s his heart. He really does take pride in his game. It’s really a pleasure to work with a guy like that.”
“He never complains. You don’t see him complaining on the ice. He just goes about his game. Lots of respect for him.”
As the Kings captain and even before he earned the captain’s “C,” Kopitar has been praised for his leadership off the ice, too.
“He’s one of the best players off the ice,” said Quick. “That’s how great a guy he is. He tries to take care of everybody. He wants to win for his teammates. That sums up who he is.”
“I know, when I got here, Brownie already had his first son and over the past decade, I’ve been able to see his family grow,” added Quick. “Same with Kopitar. He has a couple of kids now. To see that side of it, off the ice, is pretty special. Then, you go to the rink, and you see the time and work they put into their jobs, you know how much it means to them, so whether I’m on or off the ice, it makes you work a little harder. You want to win for them and that’s the way it should be.”
Desjardins pointed to Kopitar’s upbringing as being a strong influence on his NHL career.
“He has lots of good habits,” he said. “His habits are great. Where he got those from, I can’t say. But I do think a lot of your character comes from your parents and he has outstanding character, so I think there’s been a lot built through that, just how he’s developed and how he plays. He just plays the game right. I think that probably came from his Dad.”
Two Stanley Cup Championships, two Selke Trophies, NHL All-Star teams and after tonight, 1,000 NHL games played. Kopitar has certainly earned his share of accolades and honors. But although reaching 1,000 games is quite the achievement, it should be a foregone conclusion regarding what achievement stands out the most.
“The Stanley Cups are more important,” he said. “The individual awards—it’s a nice feeling when you get rewarded for something like a Selke Trophy. But at the end of the day, we all know that our locker room, at the time, was all about the big trophy.”
“We always strive towards that,” he added. “But if something else comes along [as well], it’s very welcome. I certainly realize that even my Selke Trophies, the Lady Byng and the nomination for the Hart Trophy last year couldn’t have come without my teammates.”
After Kopitar plays in his 1,000th NHL game tonight, after 13 NHL seasons and all the bumps and bruises that have come along the way, how much does the 31-year-old center have left in the tank?
If you ask his teammates, they’ll tell you that he’s got plenty left.
“He could play until he says that he doesn’t want to play anymore,” said Quick. “He’s kind of built for what he does. He could play 30 minutes a game as a center and during the last shift of a game, he won’t look tired. I feel like he the perfect build for being a number one center. He skates so smoothly even though he weighs  pounds. He makes it look so easy. It’s very impressive that he’s able to do what he does at his size. Very impressive.”
“At the end of the day, when you get up there in age—the big factor is whether or not the body holds up,” said Kopitar. “I’ve been pretty fortunate. I’m going to go as long as I can.”
“Hockey is something that I absolutely love and I don’t see myself doing anything but playing hockey.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, shown here during a practice session at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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