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Getting To Know Karlis Skrastins

by Olivia Kiespert / Dallas Stars

Much attention has been given to the new offensive style of the Stars, but defenseman Karlis Skrastins has proven himself as an integral component of the Stars with his solid defensive play through the young season.

Skrastins joined the Stars as a free agent during the off-season, signing a contract through the 2010-11 season. The 35-year-old defenseman was drafted by Nashville in the 1998 NHL entry draft where he played for four seasons. He played three-and-a-half seasons with the Avalanche before spending the last year-and-a-half with the Florida Panthers.

Karlis Skrastins
Although Skrastins called three other cities home before joining the Stars, he feels settled in with his new teammates and his new city.

“I like Dallas, it’s a nice city. When I was playing in Colorado, Dallas was one of my favorite places to go and play. I feel good [with the Stars]. From the first day, I felt like everyone tried to help me get used to things as quickly as possible. It came from everybody; from the guys and the people in the office. From almost the first day, it felt like home.”

With nine seasons in the NHL behind him, Skrastins is a scrappy league veteran who has successfully adapted to changes in the league over the course of his career.

“The league has changed a lot since I started. I think hockey is getting faster and faster, especially with the new rules. It can make things a little bit harder for defensemen, but I just try to be in good shape and be healthy. I just focus on one game at a time and don’t think about what is coming up next. I’m just trying to keep up with those young guys.”

Through his first ten games of the season, Skrastins has posted a team-leading 21 blocked shots. Although Skrastins says he doesn’t focus on blocking shots, he will drop to the ice if he thinks it will help out his netminder.

“It’s just my style of the game. If I can help my goalie by blocking a shot I will do it. It’s not like I am trying to block every shot, but you just make those plays by instinct. For me, it’s not a problem to go and block a puck. I definitely don’t focus on it and think that I have to block every shot. It just depends on how the game is going. If I can help, I will do it.”

While most players would have to adjust to the different playing styles of the western and eastern conferences, Skrastins is ready to go. Having played in the west earlier in his career, Skrastins is familiar with most of the teams and players he will face this year.

“[In the western conference], I think it is more defensive. It’s not a big change for me though. I played for Colorado and Nashville for eight years, and I am already used to [the style of] every team in the west. The east was hard for me because I played a lot of new teams and new players who I had never played before.”

The biggest struggle for the team as a whole has been killing penalties. The Stars have allowed at least one power play goal in seven of the first ten games. Skrastins admits the penalty kill has been a weak point for the team, but some of the play has not been entirely under the Stars’ control.

“It’s not like [other teams] are making lots of good plays and scoring because we are making mistakes; we’ve had a lot of bad bounces. We still have to work a lot on it, and that’s something we are doing in practice. You’ve got to be harder on yourself and just try to do your best. I think we are going in the right direction, and we’ll get better and better as the season goes on.”

The shootout has been another noted area of frustration so far this season for the Stars. They have gone 0-3, with just one goal on 10 shots. During practice, all players have tried their hand at shootout goals, with Skrastins netting most of his chances. When asked if he thinks he will be used in a game, he responds laughing:

“I don’t know. We have a lot of good forwards on the team who can make good shots. I don’t know if I am in the line up for that. We have to trust our forwards; they are going to be fine. We lost the first three shootouts, but they guys are going to get more confidence as the season goes on, and we’re going to win some shootouts for sure.”

The native Latvian is looking forward to representing his homeland in the Vancouver Olympics in February. Skrastins, who has skated for Latvia in two Olympics and nine World Championships, relishes any chance to play for his country.

“It’s a big honor for me [to represent my country], especially during the Olympic Games. For a country like Latvia to be in the Olympics is something I am very proud of. I am really looking forward to playing [in Vancouver] and to help our team be successful there.”

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