He is not imposing, and his play isn’t complicated.
So it seems fitting that the mantra of Panther defenseman Karlis Skrastins is practical and basic. Four words sum it all up.
“Keep going. Keep playing.”
Skrastins, acquired at the trade deadline from Colorado, has helped bolster a Panther blue line that has been depleted this season by injuries. But the 33-year-old Panther has also chipped offensively, scoring the game-winner Wednesday in the Panthers 4-2 victory over the Islanders.
Skrastins, a stay-at-home defenseman who has 23 goals in 590 NHL games, admits his last game-winning goal probably came in 2006 while with the Avalanche. Then again, Skrastins hasn’t built his nine-year NHL career on scoring. He has built a career as a physical presence on defense who isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body by blocking shots or throwing himself into the boards.
Skrastins is old school, and the chances of him missing a game are about two in 600. In fact, Skrastins earned the nickname ‘Ironman’ by playing in an NHL record 495 games between Feb. 21 of 2000 and Feb. 26 of 2007. Skrastins broke the previous mark of 486 games set by Tim Horton.
In a game where players are routinely bruised and battered after many games, Skrastins never misses a beat.
Fractured wrist? “I got a shin pad made for me,” he said. “I was able to do all my things. I could have gone to surgery or waited. I waited.”
Bruised ribs? Bad knee? Sore shoulder?
“I just keep playing,” he shrugs. “Injuries are part of the job, especially in the NHL. All those small things, if I can play, I play.”
Born in Latvia, Skrastins played for his country’s national team before playing in Finland for three seasons. It was while in Finland that Skrastins was drafted by the Predators in the NHL Entry Draft.
Yes, Skrastins was drafted. In the ninth round…230th overall.
“When I was drafted, I was 23 and playing in Finland,” Skrastins recalled. “I took my chance coming here. For Europeans players, it’s a big dream to come here and play in the NHL. It’s the best league in the world. Everybody wants to play here, so, yes, I took my chance.”
The Latvian wound up in Milwaukee his first season, playing 75 games with the Admirals in the International Hockey League before getting two games late in the year in Nashville. After starting his second season in Milwaukee, Skrastins wound up playing 59 games with the Predators. He would never return to the minors.
When acquiring Skrastins from Colorado in exchange for Ruslan Salei, Martin knew he was getting a different kind of player, but one much in need.
“We knew in Karlis we were getting a different kind of player than (Salei), a more defensive type who blocks shots and battles hard,” said GM and coach Jacques Martin. “But he’s very solid. He plays within his limitations, he moves the puck well and he uses his experience. He’s been solid for us.”
Despite the Panthers recent run of success, Skrastins, like the rest of the Panthers, aren’t looking too far ahead.
“Every game, every period, is like the playoffs for us,” he said. “We’ve got to just keep hoping we win our games and maybe hope other teams lose some points.”