With editing help from Mr. John Vasiliou.
At the 2008 NHL draft, a Macedonian interviewer for the Macedonian Heritage Hour made his way into the stands to talk to Chris Stamkos, Steven’s father. “Twenty years ago you went over to Macedonia as a member of the Macedonian All Stars,” the interviewer said. “How does it compare to today?”
Mr. Stamkos replied that although it was fantastic to go to Macedonia with the All Stars, the NHL entry draft was another level of excitement entirely. His son was about to become the first player of Macedonian heritage to go first overall in the NHL draft — since 1994’s Macedonian-Canadian Ed Jovanovski. Then Mr. Stamkos said that he and his son were always very proud to be Macedonian.
The Macedonian Heritage Hour interviewer later found Stamkos and asked if he had any words for Macedonians everywhere. Like the mature-beyond-his-years kid that he was, Stamkos immediately said something proud about his heritage. "Thanks for all your support. This is a great day for all people of Macedonian heritage. I'm proud to be one, and I can't wait to play in the National Hockey League."
Stamkos and Jovanovski weren’t the only players of Macedonian descent to play for the National Hockey League. Other notable players from recent years are Steve Staios, Mike Zigomanis, Jose Theodore, Christopher Tanev, Alec Stoyanov, and Chris Kotsopoulos.
There was even an ethnic Macedonian player in the Bolts organization — former Syracuse Crunch captain Mike Angelidis. Both players spent time growing up in Unionville, in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and were both interviewed for another Macedonian television spot:
I had a few questions about Macedonia, so I thought you guys would also enjoy knowing the answers.
Where is Macedonia?
It’s over there above Greece:
Why so many Macedonian-Canadian hockey players?
This is because the largest concentration of Macedonians outside of Macedonia reside in the Greater Toronto Area, in numbers somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000. They began to emigrate to Canada in the 1890s, early enough to catch the birth of the National Hockey League. Given that Toronto contains (in Mike Babcock’s words) “Canada’s Team,” a large number of these Macedonian-Canadians are just as brainwashed into loving our great sport as the rest of Canada.
There’s one more notable hockey figure of Macedonian descent that everyone has probably heard of: Macedonian-American Mike Illitch. Mr. Illitch is the owner of the Detroit Red Wings, a team built on his Little Caesars Pizza empire. Detroit, oddly enough, is another home-away-from-home for Macedonians.
What is some awesome Macedonian food?
Macedonian cuisine looks a lot like Greek cuisine, because it’s based on combinations of filo dough, spinach, feta cheese, olives and olive oil, eggplant, flatbreads, lamb, and other excellent things generally found in the Mediteranean countries. One notable food that I’ve never seen before is this hoagie-lookin’ thing called Pastrmajlija, which is kind of like a fried open-face calzone.
Why didn’t Mr. Illitch subtly add some Macedonian food into the Little Caesars menu? I don’t know, but somehow I’ve managed to stray away from Stamkos.
Does Macedonia have hockey?
They have a national team that is part of the International Ice Hockey Federation. Their jerseys sport the color of the Macedonian flag. Maybe we’ll see them in Korea!