NY Hockey Report - Kaspar The Friendly Defenseman
By Joe McDonald
But the new NHL took care of all of that and Darius Kasparaitis has to take a kinder, gentler method to his play.
“It’s tough, because I was penalized a lot even before the new rules,” Kasparaitis said. “If your effort is too hard at times, you could get away with that before, but now they call little things sometimes. And that is the biggest thing. You have to think when you are in your zone and have to shadow someone. If you have a chance to hit him, you’ll do that, but most times you are thinking about moving your feet.”
The defenseman has made a surprising adjustment to the new rules and eased up on the checks, but it has made him a smarter player. Instead of hitting a player, he is blocking shots and showing a better way to play to his young Ranger teammates.
“I try to lead by example,” the 33 year-old Kasparaitis said. “I try to work out hard and play the game hard. If the guys ask me a question, if I have the right answer, I will give it to them. But it’s just playing hard every night and blocking shots. To try to lead by example. The more you play hard the more they follow you.”
Along with Jaromir Jagr and newcomer Steve Rucchin, Kasparaitis has taken the leadership mantle of this team. He is one of the veterans, whose career has been revitalized by the young team built around him. And he feels that was the right way to go.
“We came to training camp with the attitude of having a good team no matter what the score is going to be and not leave anyone behind,” he said. “We try to play for each other and not ourselves. That’s the biggest change. We may not have many star players, but as a team we came together. We all wish well for each other.”
Kasparaitis seems satisfied with the way the team is going. He said that the Rangers were more rounded with little roles filled, which were not when they were “a team of stars.” With stars like Jagr scoring the goals, it helps to have younger players bringing energy to the back lines.
Preseason predictions by many publications placed the Rangers dead last. Kasparaitis felt that was also a contributing factor to the team’s fast start.
“Any professional athlete being rated that low made us work harder,” he said. “We had the job to get back to get us to be the top team in the division.”
Now the hard part starts. With 19 points after 16 games, the Rangers will need to keep up the momentum as the team plays their next 10 of 15 games on the road.
“It’s a real test every game we play,” Kasparaitis said. “If we play hard and smart, we can win every game we play. We are enjoying playing on this team. We don’t want to go back and be the old New York Rangers, we want to be this new team.”
It’s a new NHL indeed.