Rudi Hiti

The fact that a player from Slovenia, Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, is challenging for NHL scoring titles is pretty amazing. Until Kopitar's arrival in the NHL, how many of us knew Slovenia was a country, let alone a hockey playing nation.

Well, technically Slovenia wasn't a country until the 1990s, after the collapse of Yugoslavia. They did play hockey in Yugoslavia, with Ivan Boldirev being the most famous Yugoslavian born player, although he grew up in Canada.

Kopitar is the first great NHL player to be both born and trained in the area, although he is not the first great Slovenian hockey player. That title goes to Rudi Hiti.

Rudi Hiti, pictured to the right, represented Yugoslavia in 17 World Championships (mostly in the B-pool, however) and two Olympics - 1968 and 1972.

He was so good that the Chicago Blackhawks invited him to their training camp in 1970, a good three years before Borje Salming came to North America and paved the way for Europeans to come to the NHL.

Unfortunately Hiti never finished his only NHL exhibition game. He was struck with a puck in the face, breaking his jaw. He went home soon after.

Two years later he very nearly signed with the WHA's Los Angeles Sharks, but he opted to return home to play with his brother, Gorazd.

The four time Yugoslavian champion ended his playing career in Italy, winning their league championship three times.

Upon the official birth of his country Hiti would become the Slovenian national team head coach, serving from 1991 through 2000.

In 2009 Hiti was inducted into the IIHF Hockey Hall of Fame.

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