LOS ANGELES — He waited until the end of the game to do it, but it didn’t come on a heroic, last-second, game-winning scoring play. Instead, the Los Angeles Kings were holding on to a one-goal lead when they scored an empty-net goal to insure victory.
Indeed, Kings center Anze Kopitar reached the 1,000-point plateau—only 91 players have now reached that mark—by assisting on an empty-net goal by defenseman Sean Walker, giving the Kings a 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale, Arizona on Wednesday night.
But even though Kopitar’s 1,000th National Hockey League point came in the form of an assist on an empty-net goal, that did not tarnish his achievement—not one bit.
“It’s very meaningful, because of all the years he’s put in, and to do it with one team, and while [he is] one of the best defensive players in the world throughout [his] career is quite impressive,” said Kings head coach Todd McLellan. “I’m certainly proud of him, but I’m honored to be able to coach him. It’s a pleasure to have that type of person around your locker room on a daily basis. He makes everybody better, including the coaching staff. His passion and energy for the game is contagious.”
Not surprisingly, Kopitar was visibly moved after the game.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “I’m sure it’s going set in a lot more in the next few days or weeks. This one is a little bit different than [playing in] 1,000 games, because for 1,000 games, the excitement kind of builds up, and when it comes, you’re expecting it. For this one, it just hits you, so it’s very exciting, right now. My heart is still racing.”
“It’s surreal,” he added. “It hasn’t set in. Being a part of this club is very special to me…I’m very humbled to be in this position.”
Kopitar indicated that he was thinking about reaching 1,000 points a little too much prior to the game.
“It [was] definitely exciting and nerve-wracking, a little bit,” he noted. “I caught myself thinking a few too many times about it. I told myself to relax, and just to play and let it happen when it happens.”
But afterwards, he was mostly just thankful to everyone who has been part of his hockey journey.
“I’m thankful to my family, my parents, my grandparents, my wife, Ines, my kiddos for giving me energy, to my brother for keeping me in check, to everybody along my hockey career, from my first coach, to Todd right now, to <Dave Taylor for drafting me and giving me this opportunity,” he said. “I could go on and on—and Mr. [Philip Anschutz, owner] for keeping me around all these years. It’s a long list. I just want to thank everybody.”
“Being a kid, you always have a dream, right? [The dream is] to make it to the NHL, win the Stanley Cup, and to have a long, successful career,” he added. “For me, it was almost a little bit naive to think that. I guess, now, 15 years later, being in that position is exciting, humbling, and I’m thankful for all the guys who’ve played with me. They’ve been a part of my success, and our success, as a team.”
Thinking back to Kopitar’s first training camp with the Kings back in 2005—he would return to Sweden for one more season before joining the Kings for good in 2006-07—the local media were mostly pretty shocked by him because this young kid coming out of Slovenia, not known for its hockey, was easily the best player on the ice, and it really wasn’t what you’d call a close competition.
Off the ice, the young Kopitar was so well-spoken and mature. I remember speaking with colleagues, “You can tell that his parents have done a masterful job raising him,” I said several times, and that was after our very first interview with him. You could also tell that he had to struggle to get what he had in life, that it wasn’t just given to him, which builds character.
Then there was his tremendous skill, as noted earlier. He was already the best center the Kings have had since Wayne Gretzky, and he hadn’t played a game in the NHL yet. Even though he had yet to learn to play on the defensive side of the puck, which he would soon learn from then-head coach Terry Murray, you could tell already that he was going to become a star in the NHL.
15 years later, for him to play in more than 1,000 NHL games and to have reached the 1,000-point plateau—thinking back, none of that comes as a surprise to this reporter.
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, shown here post-game, holding the puck from his 1,000th career NHL point, May 5, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Kings.
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