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Kopitar's Cup journey ends in church where it began

by Tal Pinchevsky

Over the Stanley Cup's grand history, it has visited some of the most picturesque sites on the planet, including its fair share of castles, lakes and arenas.

But it would be difficult for any of those to match the scene surrounding the Cup last week when it arrived at the Church of the Assumption, a 15th-century Baroque-style place of worship located in the Julian Alps of northwestern Slovenia.

After carrying the Stanley Cup around Slovenia, the first time the trophy ever visited the country, Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar brought it, along with family and friends, to the church. For the NHL all-star, the visit brought his Cup journey full circle.

Located on an island on Bled Lake, the church is accessible only via a special boat, known as a pletna. Once the boat docks, visitors are greeted by a stone staircase made up of exactly 99 steps. Local tradition calls for grooms to carry their brides up the stairs in order to assure a happy marriage -- but for Kopitar, carrying the Cup up the staircase was the culmination of a prayer he made at the church exactly a year earlier, when he visited the grounds with his girlfriend, Ines Dominc.

"Last year during the summer, me and Ines went to the island," Kopitar told the NHL Network while on the way to the church. "I rang the bell and it [my wish] definitely came true."

That wish dates to another local tradition, this one involving the church's "wish bell," which has been attracting pilgrims for close to five centuries. Numerous tourists ring the bell for good luck, but local legend states that a person's wish may come true if they ring it three times. So when Kopitar visited the church last summer following his team's first-round playoff exit, he figured it was worth his while to make his request.

"You ring the bell three times and then you make a wish and hopefully it comes true at one point in your life," he said.

Considering Kopitar and the Kings' remarkable journey toward the first Stanley Cup in franchise history, it seemed fitting he brought hockey's grandest prize back to the church.

And after posing for photos inside the church with the Cup and setting it on the ground, Kopitar made sure to ring the bell one more time.

"We, in Slovenia, are incredibly proud of Anze and his achievements. Having followed his career with the NHL, it is truly heartwarming to see that Anze continues to enjoy visiting Slovenia. The visit to the Bled island was particularly special," said Janez Ferkolj, a Bled Parish Priest. "As Anze stood in the Church of the Assumption with the Stanley Cup hoisted high above his head, the question on most minds was 'What did he wish for?' Maybe a repeat visit? We hope to see Stanley and Anze return to Slovenia again soon."

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