NHL bad guy promotes ice hockey

  • 2000-08-31
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Darius Kaspa-rai-tis, who plays for Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League in USA, visited Vilnius and announced his plans to promote ice hockey in Lithuania. This sport is not very popular among his compatriots as yet.

Kasparaitis stopped by in Vilnius on his way to Moscow, where a game between the team of all stars of the world versus Russia was held on Aug. 22. This exhibition match was organized to pay tribute to Vyacheslav Fetisov, the Russian ice hockey star, who is leaving the sport. Kasparaitis represented all stars of the world in this game. Another Lithuanian national, Dainius Zubrus, player of NHL Montreal Canadians, was invited to play for the World's All Stars but refused.

Kasparaitis started his career in the Lithuanian town of Elektrenai. Ice hockey is popular in this small town, which is not typical for the rest of Lithuania, where basketball is the number one sport. Kasparaitis' NHL career began when he joined the New York Islanders in 1992. He started playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1996-1997 season.

The media reports that Kasparaitis goes to Roman Catholic church every Sunday, however, he turns into the beast on the ice arena. NHL fans have nicknamed him "Iron Casper." Every American, interested in ice hockey knows that Kaspa-raitis likes to provoke fights on ice and many NHL players have received black eyes or lost their teeth in fights with him.

NHL has even changed some of the rules of the sport, especially low knee checks, as Kasparaitis ended the careers of five other players while this type of check was still legal.

This bad guy of NHL held a press conference in the Lithuanian Sportsmen House in Vilnius on Aug. 22. He announced the establishment of a foundation that will promote ice hockey in his fatherland.

At the moment Kasparaitis has already donated 2,000 litas ($500) to this foundation. He said that he has friends in the United States and Russia who can donate more money to his foundation.

"Ice hockey is very suitable for Lithuania. I'm not a tall guy, but most of Lithuanians are tall and strong. It is what contemporary ice hockey needs," Kasparaitis said.

He emphasized that ice hockey is an expensive sport. "I'm planning to buy and send to Lithuania ice hockey equipment and uniforms for $10,000 - $15,000 each year," Kasparaitis said.

Kasparaitis said that he has no plans to invest in some business in Lithuania unlike Sarunas Marciulionis, a retired NBA player, or Arvydas Sabonis, who still plays in NBA. Kaspa-raitis is a millionaire, although salaries in the NHL are several times lower than in the NBA. Kasparaitis also said that he has no taste for business. "I'm an ice hockey player, not a businessman," he said.

Kasparaitis expressed joy that Elektrenai Energija is a member of the Eastern European League. He said that Lithuanians would get more interested in ice hockey when a big ice arena is built in Vilnius.

Vilnius' new ice arena will be built pretty soon, says Rolandas Bucys, president of the Lithuanian Ice Hockey Federation. "We plan to start building the arena this year and finish it on Sept. 1, 2001," Bucys said, adding that construction of the arena will cost 12 million litas.

"Where will we get the 12 million? There are already investors who want to sponsor ice hockey," Bucys said.