Players prepare to face off Down Under

Players from the Kings and Coyotes will take part in the first NHL game in the Southern Hemisphere as part of the NHL Global Series in September.

Players prepare to face off Down Under

Feature photo: Getty Images

It is a hockey adventure Anze Kopitar never anticipated he would be going on.

His NHL career spans nearly 1,300 games over 17 years and has taken the Los Angeles Kings captain on quite the hockey journey.

From a pair of Stanley Cups, two Selke trophies as the league’s top defensive forward and a Lady Byng trophy, the 35-year-old centre has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments.

This September, Kopitar will have another memorable item to include on that list when the Los Angeles Kings head to Australia to take on the Arizona Coyotes in a pair of preseason games.

“I certainly didn’t think I was going Down Under with my hockey gear, but it will be great for the game, to explore a different market,” said Kopitar, of the recently announced 2023 NHL Global Series games. “Hopefully, everything goes according to plan, and we can have some fun, and really introduce the game of hockey in Melbourne." 

Kopitar will take part in the first-ever NHL games in the Southern Hemisphere, with sports-rich Melbourne as the host. The preseason games will be played on Saturday, September 23 and Sunday, September 24 at Rod Laver Arena.

Both teams are familiar with playing on the international stage.

The Kings played two preseason games in China in 2017, and prior to that played preseason games in Austria (2007) and Germany (2011), while the club played regular-season games in England (2007), Germany (2011) and Sweden (2011). In 2010, Arizona played a preseason game in Latvia and two regular-season games in Czechia.

“It’s definitely exciting,” said Kopitar, selected 11th overall by Los Angeles in the 2005 NHL Draft. “Everyone is looking forward to it, the chance to experience something different and to showcase our game.”

Widely regarded as one of the most livable cities on earth, Melbourne is often fondly referred to as ‘the Sporting Capital of the World.’ 

“Melbourne is recognized worldwide for embracing anything and everything sports, making it the ultimate destination to host NHL players in the upcoming NHL Global Series games,” said Marty Walsh, NHLPA Executive Director. “The players on the Kings and Coyotes look forward to introducing themselves to Australians this September and experiencing the excitement of their renowned sports fandom firsthand.”

Arizona will be the home team for the September 23 matchup, and Los Angeles will be designated the home team for the game on September 24.

Arizona Coyotes forward Nick Schmaltz, who reached the 20-goal mark for the second straight season with the Coyotes, is also looking forward to the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“It’ll be a cool experience for all of us,” said the 27-year-old, who is one goal away from 100 for his big-league career. “Most of us haven’t been to Australia. It’s a good way to grow the game in other parts of the world.”

Someone who will not be making the trip to Australia is Kopitar’s social media star dog, Gustl.

“He’ll have to sit this one out,” said Kopitar, who was named Kings captain in 2016. “He’s been to a lot of really cool places in his life already, so he’ll have to stay home this time.”

The veteran forward, who holds the distinction of being the first player from Slovenia to reach the NHL, is hoping to have some fun stories to share after his Australian hockey road trip.

For now, the focus remains on the Stanley Cup.

Kopitar, who won the Cup in 2012 and 2014 with the Kings, would be thrilled to head to Melbourne holding status as a three-time champion.

“I wouldn’t mind that at all. That’s still the ultimate goal, even though we’ve won a couple times. Until you win it, you really don’t know what you’re missing out on. After you win it, the drive is that much higher to want to win it again.”