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|17 сентября 2007
Kasparaitis tries to prove he belongs on Rangers // Newsday
BY STEVE ZIPAY
For Darius Kasparaitis, who once delivered hip checks with verve and lightened locker rooms with pranks and personality, it's all business now.
This year's training camp could be his last stand in New York, and perhaps in the NHL.
Last year - his 14th in the league - started with a troubled offseason and skidded off the rails when the Rangers sent him to the minors to get into shape Oct. 31. During a second conditioning stint in Hartford, he had an emotional collapse, a panic attack on the bench after practice March 1 that left him briefly hospitalized.
That's when the veteran defenseman, who turns 35 next month, said he "hit the bottom. The divorce, the [offseason shoulder and hernia] surgeries, I was just tired from all the pressure of life," Kasparaitis said. "Then I had the panic attack ... I don't think I was depressed. I just basically felt I didn't belong in Hartford. I was not here, I was in the middle of nowhere, without a team."
Then, watching the Rangers in the Stanley Cup playoffs, "and seeing how New York City was excited, I just missed that, to be part of something good ... I realized that if I'm not going to get back in shape, I'm gonna lose everything," he said recently.
Helped by encouraging phone calls from Rangers general manager Glen Sather and coach Tom Renney and suggestions from the coaching staff in Hartford, Kasparaitis decided to resurrect himself. "Glen told me: 'You're a tough player; just get yourself back and start training. You used to go after big guys. You used to hit Eric Lindros,' " Kasparaitis said.
He took the words to heart. "You always have to retire eventually," he said, "but I'm not ready at this point."
He began daily workouts, shedding almost 20 pounds. His trademark platinum locks were shorn.
"It's what you think and how you prepare yourself. The old injuries are healed. My confidence is back. I feel like a rookie again," he said. "Now I just have to go out and play hockey."
Kasparaitis will have to play well. There are several obstacles to a return, including the contract he signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2002. The six-year deal will pay him $3 million if he makes the roster this season. It's an unwieldy price for a team that has several veteran defensemen and youngsters knocking on the door.
"[The contract] goes through my mind sometimes, but I'm in control of myself," he said. "I can't control how they feel or how they think about me, or any team in the NHL. I have to go there and prove that I can be me, angry, a fierce hitter, and play how I played before."
Kasparaitis played only 24 games for the Rangers last season, but they are giving him an opportunity to make a case for himself here or elsewhere. "I still have a chance," he said, and even if he is shipped to Hartford, "I prepared myself for that. If I go back and play great, eventually someone's gonna need a D."
Kasparaitis has set himself another goal.
"I want to play in the 2010 Olympics for Russia," he said. "It would be my fifth. That means I have to play three more years."