Monday, May 02, 2005

The Slovene One - The Slovanian Crsoby

INNSBRUCK, Austria -- Remember the name Anze Kopitar.
Scouts have been watching Slovenia's version of Sidney Crosby for years and now the teenaged Kopitar is getting ready to test his wares against Canada at the world hockey championship.  Slovenia plays Canada on Tuesday and Kopitar wants nothing more than to score a goal against the two-time defending world champions.  It will be a tough test for the prospect who is pegged to go in the top-12 draft picks if the NHL and NHLPA resolve their differences and have a draft.
The Slovenes are in over their head but that won't stop Kopitar from trying his best.  "It would be great to score against Canada and all those NHL stars," he says.  Team USA ripped Slovenia 7-0 on Sunday. Kopitar's effort was noticeable and he showed flashes of why he makes scouts drool.
Kopitar clearly enjoyed being on the same ice with NHL players. He was thrilled with the chance of taking a face-off against Mike Modano of the Dallas Stars and challenging Aaron Miller of the Los Angeles Kings on defence.  "We are not scared of nobody and we will do better,' he said. "It was nice to play against the United States and it was a really good experience and hopefully we will do better against Canada. They are even a stronger team but we have to go into the game like normal and we can't be afraid.
"To play all the NHL stars, it will be a fun experience for everybody. I'm looking forward to seeing (Dany) Heatley and (Rick) Nash."  Slovenia isn't a hotbed of hockey and only one Slovene - Edo Terglav - has ever been drafted by an NHL club. He was the 249th overall pick by Buffalo in 1998 and he now plays in France where lives with his Canadian wife.  Kopitar started playing when he was four years old and the biggest influence on him has been his father, Matjaz Kopitar, a former national team member who is an assistant coach here at the world tournament.
Last year, Kopitar moved to Sweden and signed with the Sodertalje club team. He won the Swedish junior league scoring championship and the '06 world tournament is his third major international event this year. He played in the second tier World U18 and World U20 tournaments and was selected as the tournament MVP in each.  "My year was a good year," said the soft-spoken Kopitar. "I had a lot of games (in the Swedish Elite League) and hopefully it will help me at the NHL draft."
Kopitar is the top-ranked European in the NHL's rankings and other independent lists have him anywhere from the sixth best prospect in the draft to the 10th.  He says he owed a lot to his father.  "I watched my dad throughout his career. I watched him so much that I started to play like him. But he is a winger and I am a centre."  There were kids in the stands cheering for their hero. They'd sing "Anze, Anze" when they noticed he was on the ice against the United States. Slovenia borders Austria and a couple of hundred fans are here hoping for the best.
Kopitar is modest about his popularity.  "I am not so popular. Hockey is popular but soccer, basketball and handball are more popular."  But that could change if Slovenia's Sidney Crosby makes it big in the NHL like the scouts are projecting.
-Referenced from www.sportsnet.ca (By Alan Adams)

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