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"After, he play better," says Kasparaitis, whom the Islanders made the fifth selection in the '92 draft. "I was...what is word, frustrated? Yes! Frustrated. Understand words better if go slowly."
O.K., then let's go slowly.
See Darius Skate
Kasparaitis is, as they say, a practice player. This is good and bad. It's good because, as Islander coach Al Arbour artfully phrases it, "Darius has a lot of energy." Kasparaitis also has a great attitude, which is good, and he plays hard, which is very, very good. But there's that thin line that separates practice from games—a line that, to Kasparaitis, just keeps moving. This is the bad part. "He gets excited," says Islander defenseman Tom Kurvers. "We've done little one-on-one drills, playing keep-away, and he becomes, like, possessed. It can be scary."
"I see player with puck in corner, I hit," says Kasparaitis. "Teammates tell me, 'Can't hit hard in practice,' I try to remember, but sometimes I hit anyway. 'Sorry,' I say, but no good."
Many Islanders now say they no longer have to assume the fetal position every time the 5'11", 190-pound Lithuanian comes out for his morning drills. He's less likely to pop veteran forward Benoit Hogue in the back of the head just to keep things interesting, perhaps because he's tired of apoplectic teammates pinging pucks at him. "I listen good," he says.
Well, up to a point. In a preseason practice Kasparaitis whacked Dave Chyzowski on the knee with his stick, whereupon they scuffled on the ice, each drawing a generous share of the other's blood. That's how Kasparaitis got the anchovy on his face. "We fight," Kasparaitis later chirped, smiling as if the two had spent the day making origami together. "Not big thing. Just hit each other's faces."
In other words, the NHL in a nutshell.
One night later Kaspar & Co. were able to bludgeon somebody else, which must have been good news to management. The Isles' first exhibition game was against the Boston Bruins in Albany, N.Y., where the fans showed up wearing KASPARAITIS jerseys and chanting "Da-ri-us! Da-ri-us!" anytime their man so much as inspected his cuticles. They weren't disappointed, either. In just one period Kasparaitis barreled head-on into poor right wing Steve Heinze, jarring loose more saliva than you'd see in a week in a New York subway; dived, prone, to try to block a slap shot from the point; yanked down right wing Scott Lindsay and slapped off his helmet; assisted on a dandy Islander goal; and received two minutes for depositing his elbow on the person of defense-man Don Sweeney. "I get tired a little at end," explained Kasparaitis, who perhaps ate one too many blintzes over the summer. "But I play O.K. Have fun."
Sure, it's always fun for him. Opposing players would beg to differ—including Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who found himself on the receiving end of a Kasparaitis hip check during the playoffs last season. So what if the previously untouchable Penguin had just returned from treatment for Hodgkin's disease. New York Ranger Mark Messier also got some rough treatment from the Islander last year and, like Lemieux, practically begged Kasparaitis to fight. Then there's the entire New Jersey Devil team, which vowed vengeance last season after getting Dariused for a night. Actually, the threats became so grave that Kasparaitis's mother, Laima, called from Lithuania in tears after reading about them. "She think they really going to kill me. Like with gun." Kasparaitis recalls. "I tell her, 'Not kill me, really. Just hit me a lot.' That's hockey. Man game. No crying. She feel better."