Reflecting on Anze Kopitar’s 1000-point milestone, I spoke with ex-LA Kings assistant Jamie Kompon, who saw first-hand the star’s rise from 2006 to 2012.
Over the course of his 15 NHL seasons, Anze Kopitar played for plenty of coaches in multiple capacities. For his first six seasons, though, the 33-year-old had one constant in Jamie Kompon, who served as an assistant coach for the LA Kings from 2006 to 2012.
That timeline is imperative as Kompon’s first game behind the Kings’ bench was also Kopitar’s first game, and his last was when the silver-and-black won their first Stanley Cup.
Entering the 2006-07 season, the Kings were going through a transitional period. With a new chapter in place, Dean Lombardi was hired as the club’s new general manager along with a new coaching staff that included Kompon, fellow assistants Mike Johnston, Nelson Emerson, goaltending coach Bill Ranford, and head coach Marc Crawford. But, the new chapter also started with a new budding star in Anze Kopitar.
Kompon, now the associate coach for the Winnipeg Jets, was generous enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to speak with me about Kopitar about his growth as a player and as a person.
We began, though, with Kopitar’s crowning achievement in 2021: reaching the prestigious 1000-point plateau.
“It’s an amazing achievement,” Kompon emphasized. “I laugh because Billy Ranford has seen all 1000 of them, which is a scary thought because he’s been there the whole time. But, to see that, it wasn’t about the points because never cheated the game and it shows that the fact that he won the Selke as a defensive player. He never cheated the game. It wasn’t about the points, it was about the team, it was about winning. He wasn’t worried about that. So, for him to get 1000 points, you figured that he would eventually, but to actually have it happen and hear that he got his point, you’re kind of going, ‘Wow, that was quick. You don’t realize how fast time’s flown by.”
With that being said, the former Kings assistant coach couldn’t help but reflect on his time getting to know Kopitar. This began with his first impressions of the Slovenian when both began their respective Kings careers in the fall of 2006.
“Well, I think the first thing that sticks out about Anze wasn’t just that he was a young man, but a very respectful young man,” Kompon noted. “There was no egotism, there was no ‘I’m better than everybody else.’ He was very humble about where he was at, he was very appreciative about the opportunity of being drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Kings, he never took anything for granted, and [was] very respectful. Once he got onto the ice, it was just– here’s this big, young man that’s skating around the ice, literally flying around the ice, his ability and his hands and the way he thought the game was just totally impressive.”
What impressed Kompon most about Kopitar most, though, was the youngster’s overall desire and enthusiasm, coming off as a wily veteran as opposed to a 19-year-old freshman.
“Coming in, and in a team that, back then, were an older group, an older team, and he was in front, the first for every drill,” Kompon remembered. “Every drill, he was the first in line. There were no ifs, ands or buts, he wanted to be first, he wanted to prove it, and here’s a player that now is coming in, a rookie, and he’s the first in line and that’s almost unheard of in terms of his confidence. He wanted to prove that he understood and he wanted to prove that he does things right.”
Additionally, the Kings’ 2005 first-rounder was determined to make his home country proud.
“He had something to prove being Slovenian, also,” Kompon added. “The first [player] ever drafted from Slovenia. There’s a lot of things that you wanted to make sure that he was doing right and he did every one to the best of his ability. My first impressions of Kopi were just outstanding.”
Many would give a great deal to be a fly on the wall over the course of a star player’s maturation both on and off the ice. That would especially be the case for fans of the Kings in regards to Anze Kopitar. Fortunately for Jamie Kompon, he was privileged enough to witness the star’s growth on a first-hand level.
From his play during games to how he conducted himself in practices and in the locker room, evolving over the course of a six-year span, Anze Kopitar’s early career with the Kings set the tone for his, dare I say it, legendary status in Los Angeles.
“I think one of the biggest things with Kopi was that as he started to mature, get stronger, and understand the league and understand that level of competitiveness that we needed, in terms of not being– I don’t want to say ‘intimidated’, but playing that role where he’s got to be hard — harder on pucks, harder on [the opposition],” Kompon explained. “And he never questioned his hockey sense, but when he needed to raise his level, he always raised his level. As a leader, just in terms of his growth as a leader to become the captain of the team, I think the biggest thing that he had was that he didn’t have to say anything. Just play. I don’t remember him ever being on the wrong side of a puck, shooting for offense. Everything that he got was earned. Those details were instilled in his game, and he wanted to make sure that if he did them right, everyone else should be doing them right. He didn’t have to say anything. He let his work on the ice speak for itself, which speaks immensely about who he is as a person and who he is as a player.”
It can be argued what was the most critical juncture in Los Angeles Kings history. While there may not be any right or wrong answer, this writer puts a great deal of emphasis on the period between 2006 and 2012.
After multiple unsuccessful rebuild attempts, the LA Kings enjoyed the fruits of their labor, if you will, in 2012 when they won their first-ever Stanley Cup. But, to suggest that the achievement was easy couldn’t be further from even the same vicinity as the truth.
While Dean Lombardi put his rebuilding plan in place upon being hired in 2006, the Kings struggled from then until 2010 when they ended their playoff drought. Few would have blamed members of the team for growing impatient, becoming frustrated and-or wanting out. To the credit of those who endured the growing pains, including Kompon and Kopitar, they were rewarded in the end.
For Kompon, the Kings’ Stanley Cup victory in 2012 gave him an opportunity to reflect on Kopitar’s progress, especially during trying times for the franchise, and feel a great sense of vindication as a result.
“Anze and I had a relationship because he started at a young age,” noted the 54-year-old. “Bill Ranford and I were the only two coaches there, still with the organization in terms of coaches, when we had won. So, it was special because we took that journey together, we watched his growth and development. We went through the hard times, we went through the tough times, and we got to the peak. And that was such a– I don’t even know how to explain it because it was so wonderful to see him grow and the excitement that he had to lift that Stanley Cup.”
For Kopitar, in particular, as personally satisfying as winning hockey’s Holiest prize was, he never forgot those who played a role in his development as both a bona fide star and as a respected leader.
“He was one of the first ones that invited Billy and me over to his house to make sure that we were there to celebrate the Stanley Cup,” Kompon fondly reflected. “For me, that meant a lot to me for him thinking about us and knowing that we thought that highly of him as fondly as we thought of him.”
When speaking of player-coach relationships, the role of an assistant coach is sometimes lost in the shuffle, so to speak. Nevertheless, Jamie Kompon’s role in Anze Kopitar’s development cannot go understated.
While the roles of Marc Crawford, Terry Murray, and Darryl Sutter all bore importance to the rise of Kopitar’s earned status as one of the NHL’s premier stars, it was Jamie Kompon’s presence during the centerman’s most critical career juncture that helped pave the way to 1000 points, among other achievements.
For 15 years, Anze Kopitar has helped turn the LA Kings into a championship-caliber organization, and it was Jamie Kompon who helped plant the seeds for the star’s growth as one of the franchise’s greatest figures.
So, when it comes time to hang up the skates, to watch his No. 11 elevate to the rafters of STAPLES Center, and, yes, even when he earns his eternal place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Anze Kopitar will look back on all of those who helped him get where he is. And you can bet that Jamie Kompon will right near the top of that list.