ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – Darius Kasparaitis will end his playing career and begin a coaching career with Russian giant, SKA St. Petersburg.
Kasapaitis was one of two NHL-calibre hockey players from Lithuania.
Just like New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus, Kasparaitis hails from Elektrenai, a 14,000-person town that is known as Lithuania’s hockey hotbed.
At age 14, Kasparaitis left Elektrenai to join Dynamo Moscow where he played his first game in the Soviet league as a 16-year-old before transferring to the New York Islanders in 1992, the same year he was picked fifth overall in the NHL Entry Draft.
The defenceman played 946 NHL games for the Islanders, Pittsburgh, Colorado and the New York Rangers until 2007 and continued his career with Russia’s SKA St. Petersburg.
Unlike Zubrus, who represented Lithuania, Kasparaitis chose to play for Russia after the split-up of the Soviet Union.
Kasparaitis won Olympic medals of each colour – gold (Albertville 1992), silver (Nagano 1998) and bronze (Salt Lake City 2002). He also won the 1992 World U20 Championship with Russia.
Kasparaitis missed the 2009-2010 season due to a groin injury and was offered a contract with AIK Stockholm as he was living in the Swedish capital with his family. But Kasparaitis refused the offer last weekend and decided to embark on a new career. The 37-year-old will become the assistant coach of Ivano Zanatta for SKA St. Petersburg.
“I was not playing last year and got used to the idea to end my career as a player and become a coach,” Kasparaitis said to Sport Den za Dnyom, who calls Vladimir Yurzinov Sr. his idol as a coach. “I’m happy that I was offered a job as a player and now as a coach here. I never thought that I’d play for the army team, but now I’m a St. Petersburger.”