Darius Kasparaitis:

THE MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY

As told to: Greg Thomas

Sometimes, I call myself the man without a country. I left Lithuania at a young age, went to Russia, and ended up just everywhere.

I grew up in a small town in Lithuania called ElektrEnai. My father worked as an electrician in the power plant and my mother worked in a health care business. We walked everywhere. When I was eight years old, Alexsey Nikiforov came to my school. He asked which of us wanted to play hockey and I said I did. Nikiforov was a wonderful skater and has many guys playing in the NHL right now. He lives in Long Island. Mike Komisarek, Chris Higgins, and Eric Nystrom are all former students of his. I was lucky. He came from my town and was my first coach.

I used to dress at home in my hockey equipment and then walk to the rink. I learned to skate on a pair of figure skates that my dad had shaved the picks off. I was able to skate immediately; it was amazing. It was like a gift. Now, it probably took me three or four years to learn to turn left and stop left but I got it. I really liked it. I’d tried tennis but no one would give me a racket or balls so I knew it wasn’t for me. Hockey seemed to reward hard work and because my coach was such a good skater he taught me to do it properly, allowing me to develop other skills.

Sometimes, I call myself the man without a country. I left Lithuania at a young age, went to Russia, and ended up just everywhere.

I left my little home in Lithuania and moved to Moscow, a huge city. I had no idea how big it was. Plus, I thought I spoke the language. I thought, “Hey my Russian is pretty good,” but when I got there and tried to speak to the people, I realized my Russian was actually not very good at all. It was a difficult time. It was not only a cultural shock, but I missed my parents. I was a little kid, 14, and after the first season training in Russia, I returned home for one month in the summer. When summer was over, I went back to Russia for the next season of training. Shortly after getting back to Moscow, I ended up going to watch a soccer match between a Lithuanian team and a Russian team. I met a bunch of Lithuanian fans and I decided to go home and quit hockey. I got on the train with the Lithuanian fans and we all went home. When my mom came to get me at the train station, she had no idea what I was doing. She called my coach immediately. He came all the way to my town, picked me up and drove me back to Moscow the same day. I remember it took 9 or 10 hours. And then, when I got back, I was invited to play for the National team. I was 15 or 16 years old and invited to play the National team. I had almost missed the opportunity because I had run away and decided not to play hockey. Thanks, Mom.

 


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