Our Date With Stanley

Our Date With Stanley

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Anže lifts!

You often dream about things, things that are so far beyond your reach that you have a problem of thinking about them being more than just dreams. I am a hockey fan from Croatia, who wanted to write about the game and therefore, my biggest dreams consisted of being around the game with people who care about it as much as me. Be it writing, seeing things live, or learning the game.

Of course, the biggest dream in a hockey fan’s life is seeing the Holy Grail of hockey, the Stanley Cup. When Anže Kopitar won the Cup with the LA Kings, I knew that the opportunity for seeing it live could present itself and when the Kings’ ace announced that the Cup was coming to his native Slovenia I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to miss.

I originally planned the trip as a five body and a car endeavor, but that shrunk to two (my girlfriend and me) because a job interview, exams and work got in the way of my three buddies making it too. So, the car idea now scrapped, the dynamic duo bought a train ticked to Jesenice and hoped for the best. The ride lasted around 3 hours, most of it spent by admiring the wonderful, mountain filled scenery.

Upon arriving, we started searching for Hrušica, which is right next to Jesenice. People were very kind as we were commuting through town and found Hrušica soon enough. We immediately saw the “Stanley Cup venue” because they were doing sound checks with loud techno music and it was right next to the town entrance. When we made sure that was indeed the right place, coffee was needed. Luckily, a wonderful pizza place called “Trucker” was just below the venue.

So, we sat down right next to two American photographers whose names escape me, but were also there to cover the event. After a little chat they went upstairs to make all the necessary preparations and we kept on drinking our beverages. Then, tragedy struck. The biggest splash of rain you ever saw came pouring down. It lasted for about 2 hours and I was already thinking about horror scenarios such as trash bags (new ones of course) over our heads to shield us from the rain and even worse, the Stanley Cup never making an appearance on that particular day.

Shelter & Food

We went inside and ordered a pizza. When the meal was done, the rain had subsided, but didn’t stop. We bought extra socks in a nearby store just to have something dry to wear on our trip back and then climbed back up to the venue. Two rock bands were doing their best to keep the crowd (which kept increasing despite the rain) pumped but it was clear the people were there to see one thing. The rain stopped, but it was still relatively chilly, which is not good when wearing just shorts, a t-shirt and are packed for sunny weather (yes, I saw the forecast).

It was time for the big announcement and as luck would have it, the sun started shining again. Kopitar came to the stage on the road just next to the venue. What’s great about it is he was carrying the cup while riding in a carriage along with his brother and girlfriend, Phil Pritchard never far behind. I’ll never forget the song that the band (Big Foot Mama) played when they were carrying the Cup.

Then, he climbed on stage and lifted it. I still have trouble believing it was the real thing, because I guess living dreams do that to a person. The crowd cheered him and of course us Croats (us and fellow journalists/friends who I’ve bumped into earlier on) joined in. Then we got close and all I kept thinking was the times I saw it lifted on TV/various streams, the nights I stayed up to see all the games I’ve seen. It all melted together in one glorious hockey moment.

Tis the Grail!

We took pictures, a very kind Slovenian, who was right next to it, took our camera to take an even better photo. We thanked him, got clear from the crowd, took one last look back and headed home.

On the way back, a Serb gave me a beer and we chatted about our collective history and how despite the war, people still remained people. He wanted to know where we were going/been. We told him – Jesenice, I thought to add “and were visiting the Stanley Cup” but odds are he wouldn’t have known what I was talking about. We said our goodbyes and got off in Zagreb, my home town.

In life, as in hockey, you always have plenty of people to thank. So, thank you LA Kings, thank you Anže Kopitar. Without you, I’d probably never live to see the Cup so near Croatia. Thank you Slovenia, for your scenery and great people, who welcomed us with open arms. The biggest thank you, however, goes to my girlfriend, who was always there, back when hockey dreams seemed as nothing more than just that – dreams.