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Thread: Darius Kasparaitis making a comeback

  1. #1
    IHF Member Conesy's Avatar
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    Darius Kasparaitis making a comeback

    According to The Hockey News, Kasparaitis is trying to make a return to hockey to play for Lithuania:
    http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/da...national-team/

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    By Dan Marrazza

    South Florida is known for a lot of things.

    Sunny weather? Sure. Beaches? Definitely. Large retiree community? It’s always been there.

    Although South Florida has the reputation for being a popular place to retire, it’s the only area of the United States where 43-year-old hockey players remain active.

    Jaromir Jagr, perhaps you’ve heard about. Darius Kasparaitis, Jagr’s former teammate with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers and fellow member of the 43-year-olds club, you may have forgotten.

    Although it’s been nine years since he last played in the NHL and seven since he finished his professional career in the Kontinental Hockey League, Kasparaitis has resumed training from his Miami home in preparation of taking one last kick at the can with the Lithuanian national team.

    It can’t really be called a comeback as much as trying to fulfill one final wish to represent his home country in an international tournament. Kasparaitis spent the prime of his career representing Russia and the Soviet Union internationally, rather than his native Lithuania.

    Kasparaitis’ decision to primarily represent Russia occurred immediately before the 1992 Olympics, where players from the Soviet national team were allowed to compete together for the final time a few weeks after the Soviet Union collapsed. Having represented the Soviet Union the prior four years in an era when all Lithuanian-born athletes were part of the Soviet sport system, a then 19-year-old Kasparaitis chose to remain with his teammates to represent the Russian “Unified Team” at the Albertville Olympics and not join the Lithuanian program that was re-established in early 1992.

    “1992 Olympics, I had a choice to walk away from the Olympic Games right before the Olympics to represent Lithuania or play for Russia in Olympics,” Kasparaitis recently told The Hockey News. “At the time, there had been no team in Lithuania, there was no hockey.

    “I had a choice to play in Olympics (for Russia) or represent Lithuania (not in the Olympics). I made a choice to play on the highest level.”

    The Unified Team that went to Albertville was one of the most dominant teams in Olympic history. It steamrolled its competition and defeated Canada – led by a young Eric Lindros – to win gold, serving as the launching point for several notable NHL careers, including that of Kasparaitis.

    From there, Kasparaitis left Dynamo Moscow – a KGB-sponsored club that he joined shortly after first arriving in Russia at age 14 – the following fall to join the New York Islanders, where he forged a reputation as one of the most feared bodychecking defensemen in the NHL.

    Kasparaitis solidified this reputation after leaving the Islanders throughout a 14-year career that included stops with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Avalanche and New York Rangers, as well as several appearances with the Russian national team.

    “I played in three more Olympics representing Russia,” Kasparaitis said. “In the back of my mind, I always had it that maybe one day I play for Team Lithuania in at least one game in some kind of official tournament.”

    Besides having to work himself back into playing shape after spending the better half of a decade out of hockey, Kasparaitis is balancing a real estate career in South Florida with being the father of five children, four of whom are under the age of seven.

    Not to mention, for Kasparaitis to play for Lithuania after years of representing Russia, he’s had to travel to Lithuania each of the past two years to participate in local games to acquire eligibility.

    “You have to wait five years after you represented another country originally,” Kasparaitis said. “Then I’d have to play in a local championships in Lithuania for three years to qualify. I go to Lithuania once a year, twice a year to play in a national championship. Get a few games under my belt. I have to play one more year. The team I represent is called the Hockey Punks.”

    Taking the road back to notable international competition on a team called the Hockey Punks?

    “The level, it’s not bad,” Kasparaitis said. “But if I can still play after being retired from hockey almost seven years and score goals (Kasparaitis has two goals in two games with the Hockey Punks), which I never did in any league… it’s not the most high-level hockey. If I go on higher level and represent the national team of Lithuania, we’d play against younger (better) guys.”

    Kasparaitis doesn’t intend to suit up against NHL players in the Olympics again or anything like that. In fact, Lithuania has to win two four-team tournaments to even qualify for the 2018 Olympics, starting next month in Budapest, Hungary.

    Kasparaitis won’t be eligible in time to play in February’s Olympic qualifiers. He’s more aiming for a world championships in 2017 or 2018, even if it’s in the B or C division.

    “I think if I really want to do it, it’s possible,” Kasparaitis said. “But time is ticking. With family, kids, it’s getting harder to come back. I probably have to lose 40 pounds. I play in Miami. We have lunch hockey and I play there maybe 2-3 times per week.

    “If everything goes well, I hope I can make my dream come true and represent Lithuania in one official tournament.”
    Last edited by Marc Brunengraber; 16-05-2016 at 19:36. Reason: inserted text of article from link
    Twitter: @CSmeeth

  2. #2
    IHF Staff Marc Brunengraber's Avatar
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    Kasparaitis was recently interviewed by Martin Merk, Pavel Lysenkov for the IIHF website. Here is his interview:

    Kasparaitis chasing dreams

    Champion talks to coaches, about Lithuania and more

    Published 16.05.2016

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    At the recent International Coaching Symposium former Olympic gold medallist Darius Kasparaitis was among the speakers.

    The defenceman from the Lithuanian town of Elektrenai won gold with the Soviet/CIS team at the 1992 World Juniors when he was named Best Defenceman of the tournament and continued with Olympic Gold the same year for the Russian hockey team that after the dissolution of the Soviet Union competed as the Olympics as the Unified Team. He continued to represent Russian in three more Olympics completing the medal set with silver in Nagano 1998 and bronze in Salt Lake City 2002, and in two World Championships.

    At the International Coaching Symposium held annually during the World Championship Kasparaitis was talking as an expert in hockey from east to west where he was playing in the NHL about hockey skills in professional hockey and the collaboration between head and skills coaches.

    Among the other speakers were famous international coaches and experts such as Mike Keenan, Alexander Khavanov, Marc Crawford and Sergei Nemchinov.

    “I was born at the right time,” Kasparaitis says summarizing his NHL career. “If I had gone to the NHL ten years earlier, they would have killed me. And if I had gone ten years later, they would have put me into the penalty box all the time.”

    Kasparaitis admits that times have changed for the type of player he was.

    “Why don’t we have defencemen like Kasparaitis, Yushkevich, Zhitnik nowadays? Because children want to score goals. When I raised my children in Florida, no one wanted to practise. They just liked to take the puck and play hockey,” says the father of five children.

    The 43-year-old talks about how he came to play hockey. “As a child I was lucky with the coach,” he says. The coach came from the Latvian capital of Riga to Elektrenai, an industrial town built during the Soviet times that became Lithuania’s hockeytown in a country crazy about basketball during that era and where the two only Lithuanians to make the NHL hail form, Kasparaitis and Dainius Zubrus. There was a strong focus on skating when Kasparaitis started as an eight-year-old.

    “Do you know why Valeri Vasiliev invited me to Dynamo Moscow? We in Lithuania played a game against Dynamo Moscow. And apparently I hit Zhamnov a couple of times. They were surprised, asked: ‘Who is this? We are winning 10-0 and he skates and hits everybody!’” Kasparaitis recalls when he as a teenager played against against the juniors of one of the most famous Soviet club teams with his local team and legendary defenceman Vasiliev was scouting for new players for Dynamo.

    “Vasiliev came to our bench during the game and asked who I was. I replied. ‘Do you want to play for Dynamo?’ he asked. ‘Of course I want!’ I replied. ‘You will,’ he answered. He drank a couple of bottles with my father I went to Moscow.”

    He left home to move from small-town Lithuania to the Soviet capital and one of its most famous hockey teams when he was 14. The first player he saw was Andrei Nikolishin, who looked like a real man. Kasparaitis on the other hand felt skinny. “We had nothing to eat. They gave coupons for food. It was not only a challenge to practise but also to find food,” he says about his childhood in Soviet Lithuania.

    “When I arrived in Moscow I joined the team with guys two years older than me and one time I had an open-ice hit against a teammate. I got energized from that although I think the guy was not happy. But I realized that in hockey you cannot just score goals,” he says about developing his style of play in his formative years. “Sometimes I was asked why I play such aggressive hockey. I said I’m trying to survive as a 14-year-old in Moscow.”

    Kasparaitis developed in Moscow until he left for New York around his 20th birthday in 1992, the year he won Olympic and World Junior gold as well as the Soviet league. In summers he used to travel to Switzerland for Vladimir Yurzinov’s camps to work on his skills.

    He spent 14 seasons in the NHL playing for the New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Avalanche and New York Rangers. After two more years with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL he ended his career as a professional player in 2010 and turned to his real-estate business.

    “Sometimes kids asked what the parents were doing. The answer was that mom graduated at the university and head a company, and daddy was with us and played hockey. But everything I achieved in life I did thanks to hockey. You come across a lot in sports. I’m a good example. I came to Moscow when I was 14 years old to survive and then played in America – it’s incredible! My character and good friends who were always there helped me.

    “I’m 43 years old. If I would turn back the time to 20 years ago, I would have listened better to the coaches, analyse more,” he says. “And I was always afraid to rest because I thought I would be out of shape. Maybe I had so many injuries because of that. Players need to understand that they sometimes need a break.”

    Kasparaitis is still not done with playing hockey as he’s chasing his last dream as a player: representing his native country Lithuania in international hockey. Opposed to Zubrus, who represented Lithuania in the lower divisions, Kasparaitis opted to play for medals with Russia when he had to choose after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. But changing the national team is not that easy as he had to find out. To be eligible to represent Lithuania after having played for Russia before, Kasparaitis needs to play four consecutive years (48 months) in Lithuania according to the IIHF Statutes & Bylaws and he started to do so in the 2013/2014 season after a four-year break from competitive hockey.

    “I’m still playing hockey, in Lithuania, for the Hockey Punks Vilnius. I try to play for the Lithuanian national team at the 2018 World Championship. In hockey, not basketball,” he says just a few weeks after winning the bronze medal in this year’s Lithuanian championship.

    Despite just playing a few games and his long break from the ice, he’s still easily one of the best players on the ice when he puts his skates on for Lithuanian league play. And despite his history as a pure defender he even scores goals there – two goals and 11 points in three games – and hopes that his dream of donning the Lithuanian jersey will become true in two years.

    The country is currently playing in the third tier at the World Championship Division I Group B and missed promotion to the second level for next year with the likes of Austria and Kazakhstan only by one goal this year without Zubrus and without goaltender Mantas Armalis, who could become the third Lithuanian to play an NHL game after signing a contract with the San Jose Sharks. With Kasparaitis potentially on the team his career would become full circle.

  3. #3
    IHF Staff Marc Brunengraber's Avatar
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    I think that this would be fantastic. Kasparaitis would be 45 years old when he would first suit up for Lithuania in IIHF competition.

    Can an ex-NHL regular in his mid-forties compete effectively in IIHF Division 1B? I think so. In fact, I think he'd be one of Lithuania's best players, if not their best player other than Armalis.

    My only question is whether there are a certain number of games he'd have to play in each Lithuanian league season. Can one qualify playing only 1, 2 or 3 games per season? Also, I thought he had to compete solely in Lithuania during those four years. By his own admission, he plays beer league hockey in Miami.

    Perhaps this is yet another example of the IIHF relaxing its rules as it does on many occasions when doing so would help the sport in a certain country where it is struggling to grow.

    In any event, I am a big Kaspar fan. I hope he achieves his dream of competing for Lithuania in IIHF competition.
    Last edited by Marc Brunengraber; 16-05-2016 at 23:54. Reason: corrected spelling

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    IHF Member Snapshot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marc Brunengraber View Post
    I think that this would be fantastic. Kasparaitis would be 45 years old when he would first suit up for Lithuania in IIHF competition.

    Can an ex-NHL regular in his mid-forties compete effectively in IIHF Division 1B? I think so. In fact, I think he'd be one of Lithuania's best players, if not their best player other than Armalis.

    My only question is whether there are a certain number of games he'd have to play in each Lithuanian league season. Can one qualify playing only 1, 2 or 3 games per season? Also, I thought he had to compete solely in Lithuania during those four years. By his own admission, he plays beer league hockey in Miami.

    Perhaps this is yet another example of the IIHF relaxing its rules as it does on many occasions when doing so would help the sport in a certain country where it is struggling to grow.

    In any event, I am a big Kaspar fan. I hope he achieves his dream of competing for Lithuania in IIHF competition.
    Zubrus, between the lines, doesn't think that way...

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    Kasparaitis wore the Lithuanian NT jersey for the first time this weekend during the Baltic Challenge Cup in Klaipeda, gearing up for the WC Division IB tournament in Kaunas next April.

    http://wmib2018.iihf.hockey/en/news/...back-on-stage/

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