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Kasparaitis To Line-Up for Latest New York 'Hit'

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

by Phil Coffey

There are only two certainties in life - death and taxes.

Now, there is a third. Darius Kasparaitis will be a hit in New York. That fact is certain. Why? Because Kasparaitis, the bruising defenseman signed by the New York Rangers as an unrestricted free agent on July 2, always has been a hit.

Last season, Kasparaitis delivered 373 hits over the course of the regular season, second only to Florida Panthers defenseman Robert Svehla, now retired.

During the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kasparaitis trailed only Carolina's Erik Cole in the hit department and that was by a single check, 113 to 112. Clearly, Kasparaitis likes to get involved and that's music to the ears of the Rangers, who want to ice a grittier, tougher team in 2002-03 that will erase a drought of five seasons away from the playoffs.

"Darius sounds great and he's going to be terrific for us," Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather predicted. "He's just the kind of defenseman that we are looking for. He gives you an awful lot of energy and excitement in the game. He's the kind of guy that the crowd will learn to love in no time at all and I think his teammates will be the same way with him. He's a great team player and brings a lot of energy. And he takes the body, which we all like."

A former first-round selection of the New York Islanders (fifth overall) in the 1992 Entry Draft, Kasparaitis already is well acquainted with the pressure and hype that comes with playing in New York. Not only is he unconcerned by it, the rugged defenseman embraces it.

"I always felt, even when I was an Islander, that one day I was going to play for the Rangers," he said. "Of course I like the New York area and the Rangers-Islanders rivalry. I think that the Rangers are one of the best teams to play for. Madison Square Garden is the best building to play hockey in. I'm so thrilled right now."

Being with the Rangers for the long haul is another aspect of coming to New York that pleases the veteran defenseman. He wants to be a part of what Sather is building in New York.

"The long-term commitment that the Rangers made to me was important," Kasparaitis said. "The guys were calling me and I felt like they really wanted me. I spoke with Eric Lindros, Vlady Malakhov, Matthew Barnaby and it was nice. I felt like I was important for this team. I appreciate what the Rangers have done for me.

"In the 10 years that I played in the League, I always tried to get what was possible for me and I always wound up taking a pay cut. But the Rangers respect who I am and what kind of player I am and I'm going to give whatever I have to make this team a good team next year."

"I was ready to do what was best for my career and the Rangers made the best offer to me. I realized that and I took it. I play the game because I love to play. I didn't think about the money. But I think if you have patience and you work hard at your game, you'll get rewarded in the end. It took me almost 10 years to reach this point in my career and I'm really thrilled."

Blueshirt fans will be thrilled, too, when they see the feiry Russian defenseman bearing down on opponents next season. We are not too sure how excited the opponents will be, though.
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