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|9 февраля 2007
Skrastins the New Iron Man of Hockey // (AP)
By ARNIE STAPLETON
DENVER - Karlis Skrastins, on the verge of breaking Tim Horton's NHL record for durability by a defenseman, has never shied away from pucks or pain.
A life of bumps, bruises and breaks attest to the 32-year-old's all-out style. He's constantly dropping to the ice or skating into the shooting lanes to block shots for the Colorado Avalanche.
"Pain is part of our job," he said.
Skrastins is set to break Horton's nearly 40-year-old record Thursday night against Atlanta when he plays in his 487th consecutive regular season game.
"It's one of those things that I can be proud about," Skrastins said. "I'm not a big goal scorer or I'm not getting a lot of points, but, you know, the record ... it's going to be in my memories for all of my life. It means really a lot to me."
There's no secret to the streak, he said.
"Maybe just hard work and a lot of effort. I'm just getting ready and try to keep my focus on every game, every shift and I'm not counting the games, just getting ready for one game at a time and just keep going and keep going," Skrastins said.
Since joining the NHL in 1999, Skrastins, who grew up in Latvia's capital city of Riga, has missed just one game, on Feb. 18, 2000, when he sat out against St. Louis because of a minor shoulder injury.
"I've had a lot of injuries during the streak, too. Almost every year I have something," Skrastins said.
He has no regrets over sitting out that one game, either.
"The injury with the shoulder, it was too serious for me. I remember I was skating the morning skate and I didn't feel good. That's why I didn't play that game," he said.
Just three days later, on Feb. 21, 2000, he started his ironman streak _ on the 26th anniversary of Horton's death in an automobile accident in Canada.
A year before the lockout, Skrastins played through his worst injury, a broken wrist that dogged him over the last month of the season.
"My team doctors and trainers, they did a big, big job. They made a nice wrist guard for me and I played one game, I played the second game, and I was feeling good," Skrastins said. "Of course there was a lot of pain but it didn't bother me to play my game. If I would be a forward, I don't know if I would be able to play that game with that wrist injury. But the type of game I play, be good defensively, I could get through that."
Like any ironman, Skrastins loathes taking a seat and being a spectator.
"Hockey, it's my job. It's what I like to do and I like to be in the game and I like to play," he said.
Skrastins' 207 blocked shots were second in the league last season. His offensive stats are far less gaudy _ no goals, six assists this season.
"Not like I'm going to try to block every shot, but if I can see I can help the goalie and I can stop the puck, I will block the shot," he said. "I have a lot of protection, I have a lot of good gear on my body. So it not like every shot is getting through and I feel pain. It's my part, my style of the game and I'm used to it already.
"After the games, I have a lot of ice packs on my body, but it's what I do."
Skrastins' high pain threshold has amazed teammates and coaches.
"I'm not going to jeopardize my health if it's something really, really serious or big. But if I feel I can keep playing or keep practicing, I'm going to do this," Skrastins said. "I love what I do."
Horton's record was established from Feb. 11, 1961, to Feb. 4, 1968. The overall NHL record for consecutive games played at any position is 964 set by Doug Jarvis over 13 seasons from 1975-87.
Horton played from 1950-74, mostly with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was still commuting from Toronto while playing for the Buffalo Sabres when he was killed in a one-car accident on Feb. 21, 1974, while on his way home from a game. He was 44.
Horton made a name for himself through his mean streak and by starting a doughnut chain in 1964. There are now about 2,700 Tim Hortons doughnut shops in Canada and another 300 in the United States.
"Every time I'm in Canada, it's kind of my favorite coffee shop where to go," Skrastins said.
As for the man himself, "I heard about him a lot," Skrastins said. "Tomorrow
is going to be the game when I'm going to break this record and after that
I kind of promised myself, I want to find out more about him."