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L.A. starcreates a buzz inSlovenia

Published May 28, 2012

LOS ANGELES — It would be almost impossible to find a hockey fan in Slovenia who isn't rooting for the Kings.

Call it the Anze Kopitar factor.

"There is actually a pretty big buzz back there," said Kopitar, the Kings' 24-year-old center. "I've been going on online and reading some of the news from back there. The Kings are pretty big."

And Kopitar?

"There's a little more focus on me," Kopitar said. "It's nice for hockey to get a little attention back home."

With the Kings playing the Devils in the Stanley Cup final, expect more local-boy-makes-good stories in the country of 2 million.

Of course, when the NHL does get attention in Slovenia, it's usually focused on Kopitar. He was its first player to reach the NHL. Only one other, Detroit wing Jan Mursak, has followed.

A Stanley Cup would put Kopitar on a short list in his homeland. Sasha Vujacic won NBA titles with the Lakers. And it has won three Olympic gold medals: Primoz Kozmus (hammer throw), Rajmond Debevec (shooting) and Iztok Cop and Luka Spik (rowing).

So a Stanley Cup might rate a dinner at the Slovenian embassy.

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," Kopitar said, smiling.

Kopitar returns home every summer and has noticed a growth in hockey.

"There are more and more kids playing hockey," Kopitar said.

As for if he is responsible, Kopitar said, "Maybe a little."

The path from Slovenia to the NHL is not a straight line. Kopitar played two seasons in Sweden before being drafted 11th overall in 2006. Even with his success, scouts don't flock to Slovenia.

"You have to have a little luck; someone to see you" Kopitar said. "You can't just show up and say, 'Look, I'm ready to play.' "

Mursak played junior hockey in the Czech Republic before being drafted by the Red Wings in 2006. He and Kopitar faced each other twice this season.

"We had a couple dinners in Detroit and a couple out here when we played them," Kopitar said. "It was nice to be around someone from home."