Almost a decade later, Matjas Kopitar still vividly remembers the day his eldest son left Slovenia to play pro hockey in Sweden. It was the beginning of a hockey journey that would see Anze Kopitar eventually win the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings. It was also a pivotal moment for Slovenian hockey, which in April was promoted to the top division at the IIHF World Championship.
But at the time, Matjas Kopitar was devastated.
"That was the worst time in my life. He was still a kid, he was 16," said Kopitar, who played in his native Slovenia as well as Austria, and currently serves as the head coach of the Slovenian national team. "It was really tough for the whole family. Especially for his brother, they were really connected."