For generations, the town of Jesenice has been known for its steel mills – and hockey. The game had been a way of life in the blue-collar community for generations. And few people have come to symbolize that heritage as effectively as Albin "Bine" Felc. He was among the first Slovenians to try out for the NHL and still takes to the ice at the age of 75.
Born in 1941, Felc was among the most talented hockey players in Yugoslavia. He joined Jesenice as a 17-year-old; that year, the team became the national champion. During his long career, he scored 458 goals in the Yugoslav League, mostly for Jesenice, but he also played for Celje and Zagreb’s Medveščak. He quickly emerged as the top scorer in the league and a hometown hero. Jesenice was, by a wide margin, the best team in the country and Felc came to symbolize the town’s intense and persistent passion for the game.
But Felc set his sights even further afield. Along with two other players from Slovenia in 1968, he spent a month trying out with the St. Louis Blues for a chance to play in the NHL. At the time, European players were rare in North American hockey, and the invitation was a great honor for both the players and Slovenian hockey in general. However, Felc had a slight frame and wasn’t deemed powerful enough to play in the NHL. He returned home and was eventually followed by the two other players. (It wasn’t until Anze Kopitar joined the L.A. Kings in 2006 that Slovenia would get its first player in the NHL.)
Despite the setback, Felc’s international career was far from over: He ended up representing Yugoslavia in three different Olympics and played for teams in Italy and Switzerland. His career was long and fruitful: He was a member of the national team until 1979, and didn’t retire from league hockey until he was well into his forties. Felc spent some time as Jesenice’s coach, and then owned a bar in the town of Radovljica, not far from his hometown. Despite being a hockey legend, he remained humble and down-to-earth.
Now aged 75, Felc is still active and frequently takes part in veterans’ hockey tournaments. As befits a legend, he has been named an honorary citizen of his hometown and admitted into the Slovenian Sports Hall of Fame. Sports also seems to run in the family; Felc’s daughter Sabina was a member of the Slovenian national basketball team, and his grandson is an avid hockey player who frequently joins his grandfather on the ice. For Slovenia’s hockey fans, Felc will always be one of the best hockey players the country has ever known.