The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/09/12 at 09:40 PM ET
Between you and me, this breaks a superstition that I should not post anything after Bill fires off the live blog, and as Paul already mentioned this, I would usually take to TMR’s Facebook page or Twitter to let you know that the game-day update post includes a significant addition as of 6:18 PM (and it does, including the Wings website’s game-day preview and another Ken Holland radio interview)...
But this is too cool to stuff in the game-day post. Red Wings forward Jan Mursak and Los Angeles Kings superstar Anze Kopitar both hail from the hockey hotbed of Slovenia, a very small Eastern European/Balkan country which can boast 2.05 million residents and a land area just a wee bit smaller than Israel (i.e. it’s the 153rd-biggest country in the world, which is pretty damn small). The fact that Mursak and Kopitar are playing against each other for the first time has the country atwitter, as Mursak told MLive’s Ansar Khan...
“I’m excited, I’m looking forward to the game,’’ Mursak said. “In the news and the newspapers they’re all talking about tonight’s game.’‘
Mursak knows Kopitar well.
“Slovenia is really small, so every hockey player knows the other guy,’’ Mursak said. “He’s a very good player and everyone back home knows him and we’ve been friends for a long time, since under-18 juniors. He’s pretty business with hockey during the season, so we don’t talk to much.”
Mursak had his own cheering section of Slovenians at a recent game at Joe Louis Arena.
“It was fun,’’ he said. “I really didn’t know these people, which made it even more special, because Slovenia is so small and we don’t have players in the NHL, so they are very proud of us. I met them afterward, they came down to the locker room and they were pretty happy.”
He doesn’t think they’ll be in the building tonight, however.
“They have their own tournament up in Sault Ste. Marie that they’re playing in,’’ Mursak said. “It would have been fun if they would have come. I would want to see who they would cheer for.”
And Kopitar told DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose, who notes that the broken ankle Mursak suffered earlier this season delayed this historic match-up:
“I’ve been waiting for this for a couple of years now, since he’s been in the Wings’ organization,” said Kopitar, of the Wings’ rookie forward. “He’s a really good player and I knew it was just a matter of time before he was going to break through and come up with the big boys and play.”
“I didn’t know if this game would happen this year,” Kopitar said, “so I’m happy for him that he’s been in the lineup consistently now, and I’m looking forward to tonight.”
Both players said they’ve already heard the scuttle from back home about their memorable matchup. “It’s in the news and the newspapers they’re all talking about tonight’s game, we’ll see, hopefully we can win tonight,” said Mursak, who has played in 34 NHL games. As 15-year-olds, Kopitar and Mursak – despite living at opposite ends of the country, which is only a two-hour drive – played against each other in Solvenia’s youth hockey league. It’s were the two players learned to appreciate each other’s skills, and eventually landed the pair together on the national squad at the 2004 Under-18 World Junior Championship. Together, Kopitar and Mursak helped Slovenia win a silver medal in 2004 and a bronze medal at the U-20 World Junior Championship one year later.
A leader for the Kings and a seasoned NHL veteran with 460 games played, Kopitar has assimilated himself to the North American way of hockey, as well as the lifestyle away from the ice. It’s something that each young European player, like Mursak, must learn on his own, he said.
“He’s a good guy, not too loud, not too chatty and a little quiet,” Kopitar said. “But on the ice he can skate, definitely, and he’s got a good shot and a good hockey sense, so it’s a good package. Obviously, he can be really good. He deserves to play on that team, which is a pretty loaded team. I think it will take him a few years to figure it out with what to do, and how to do it, but I’m sure he’ll do just fine.”
Despite the historic nature of the two Slovenians, the Wings and Kings are viewing the matchup from a Western Conference standing viewpoint. The Wings are four-points behind the Western-leading St. Louis Blues, who are idle Friday night. Meanwhile, the Kings, who are one-point out of the eighth and final playoff berth in the West, dropped a 3-1 decision Thursday at Columbus.
“This is a big game for us, especially since we didn’t get the outcome that we wanted last night,” Kopitar said. “In the position that we are in right now, we need the two-points. We still have faith in where we are right now and can still control our own destiny, so that’s all you want, but we have to perform and win games.”
Update: LAKingsInsider’s Rich Hammond took note of the meeting as well:
Crack open the slivovitz, because it’s going to be a long night in Slovenia. It will be 1:30 a.m. in the small European country when the Kings and Detroit Red Wings face off tonight, but there will be plenty of interested followers. For the first time, two Slovenian-born players will face each other in an NHL game, as the Kings’ Anze Kopitar and Detroit’s Jan Mursak meet.
Kopitar is a native of Jesenice, while Mursak is from Maribor, approximately two hours to the west, but the players were born only five months apart and grew up playing with and against each other in various tournaments. Kopitar was drafted by the Kings in the first round in 2005 and Mursak was drafted by Detroit in the sixth round in 2006. Mursak, after two years of OHL junior hockey and two years in the AHL, played 19 games for the Red Wings last season and then suffered a major ankle injury — oddly enough, almost the exact same injury that Kopitar suffered last season — last September. Since returning, Mursak has played 15 games, mostly in a fourth-line winger spot. The Kopitar-Mursak matchup, it seems, is big news in Slovenia, a country of approximately two million people. “Even on the news, and in the newspapers, they’re talking about tonight,’’ Mursak said. “Hopefully we can win tonight.’’ Here’s what Kopitar said about the game…
KOPITAR: “Obviously it’s the first time that it’s going to happen, so it’s going to be fun. He’s a great player, and I played against him quite a bit growing up. I know him quite well. We had a few national-team duties, in our younger years, when we played together. He’s a good friend of mine, but as soon as we step on the ice, he’s on the opposite side. I’ll play hard and he’s going to play hard, and we’ll see what happens.’’
MURSAK: “Well, Slovenia is really small, so every hockey player knows the other guys. He’s a really good player, and everyone back home knows him. We’ve been friends for quite a long time, since the under-18 juniors. He’s pretty busy there with hockey during the season, so we don’t talk too much.’’
A note to all my Slovenian friends out there. If any of you will be up watching tonight’s game live, or know of any type of gatherings, etc., please email me and let me know. I’m working on a bigger story about this for next week. Thanks.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.