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For two playoff opponents, it's a small world The Flyers' Zubrus and the Penguins' Kasparaitis are from the same Lithuanian town.
By Tim Panaccio INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
PITTSBURGH -- When they were youngsters playing hockey in Lithuania, it wasn't unusual for Dainius Zubrus and Darius Kasparaitis to share the same patch of ice.
They were, after all, born in the same small town of Elektrenai.
``We both had the same coach,'' Zubrus, the Flyers' rookie right wing, recalled yesterday. ``I'd skate in the morning with my team, then practice with his team in the afternoon.''
At 24, Kasparaitis, a Penguins defenseman, is six years older than Zubrus.
``When I was 12 years old, he was about, what, 6? I remember him always skating with me,'' Kasparaitis said. ``At the time, I knew he was going to be a good player because he was better than players in his own age group.
``He actually always looked up to me. I remember he'd always look at me and do the same thing I did. At the time, it was funny. I was bigger than him back then.''
Zubrus considered Kasparaitis a childhood idol. ``He was the first from my country to play in the NHL,'' he said. ``And now I am the second.''
When Zubrus turned 15 and began playing in the United States with his Ukrainian junior club, he spent part of the summer on Long Island and worked out with the Islanders, the team that originally signed Kasparaitis.
``I met him again a few years ago in Long Island, and saw how big he is,'' Kasparaitis said of the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Zubrus.
He said he knew he'd bump into Zubrus sooner or later in the NHL.
``There aren't many people in Lithuania,'' Kasparaitis said. ``They got three million people, and they're all playing basketball.''
Before Islanders general manager Mike Milbury traded Kasparaitis to the Penguins in November, he called Flyers GM Bob Clarke. Milbury wanted to deal Kasparaitis for Zubrus. Clarke said no.
Kasparaitis said that would have been ``kind of weird. Lithuanian for Lithuanian. Funny when you think about it.''
Though they share a hometown, Zubrus said he's not close to Kasparaitis.
``We're not that big of buddies,'' he said.
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