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Dinosaur On Ice

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I ask about his previous marriage, to a Russian woman, with whom he has a daughter, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. “It’s not a good situation—the money. She doesn’t understand it’s just now, just a few more years.”

But Kasparaitis is not prone to melancholy. He hunches over the wheel and ponders some real-estate transactions. “Where is Williamsburg?” he asks. “Near the bridge? That’s a hot neighborhood. If you buy there now, the price will double in five years. I guarantee you. Because Manhattan is full, you know, and people have to move somewhere.”

We hurtle down the Saw Mill River Parkway—and suddenly, up ahead, traffic has come to a standstill. “What’s this?” Kasparaitis says. Behind us, Tyutin and Kondratiev are watching the movie; they’re no help. Kasparaitis begins studying the big GPS screen on his dashboard. “Watch this move,” he says, and turns off the highway. Suddenly we are in a pleasant suburb, guided by the GPS. “Is that a road?” Kasparaitis wants to know as we reach what might be a dead end. “It’s a road,” he decides, and we press forward. He’s right.

Now there is more traffic, and Kasparaitis studies his GPS. There seems to be no way to go but forward. At a green light, two old Jewish ladies are crossing the street very, very slowly. One of them has a cane. “Are they in New York or Florida?” Kasparaitis says indignantly. He lightly presses on his horn. The old lady with the cane shows Kasparaitis her cane. Kasparaitis is unimpressed and wags his finger at her in mock warning. Cane or no cane, we do have to make it to nap time.

Kondratiev suddenly lets out a howl of laughter. “What are you watching?” Kasparaitis asks in Russian.

Christmas,” Kondratiev answers, still laughing, “With the Kranks.” Kasparaitis nods approvingly.

Moments later, cruising down the Henry Hudson, Kasparaitis suddenly accelerates. “Watch this move,” he says, speeding up past 70, past 80. I think we are going to ram another car into the river. Instead, he steers us into a bump and the Explorer momentarily soars—it leaves the earth, I swear; Kasparaitis and I and the two defensemen in back are airborne on the Henry Hudson Parkway.

Five hours later, it is game time. The Madison Square Garden announcer welcomes us to the most famous arena in the world, and the onslaught of sound that is a game at the Garden begins. Almost immediately, a Minnesota Wild player is whistled off for interference, one of the most common penalties in the new NHL. The Rangers set up their power play. The plan is always the same: Get the puck to Jagr in the right slot, let him think of something. Sometimes Jagr shoots, sometimes he makes a pass. This time, he pulls up and shoots. The puck squirts through the goalie’s pads, sits in the crease for a moment, and then is knocked in by a flying Prucha: 1-0, Rangers.

“This is not old-time hockey anymore. Guys now, they take vitamins. They drink . . . protein shakes.”

Later in the period, a Ranger is called for hooking (most-common penalty No. 2). Kasparaitis comes on to kill off the penalty. Early in the shift, Minnesota forward Nick Schultz comes down the wing, and as the play develops, Schultz looks like he’s headed for Kasparaitis. “Tackle him!” a fan advises. The crowd holds its breath. But Schultz is too quick; he turns away from Kasparaitis at the last moment. Seconds later, however, a less wily Minnesota forward comes into Kasparaitis’s corner and gets creamed. The impact is palpable, and the game—one played by highly trained, highly paid professionals who practice every day in office parks, who watch films, whose lives are regimented and restricted to the perfection of their game, whose days and plays are planned well in advance, outlined, analyzed—is plunged into mayhem. The tight arrangement of the Wild power play breaks down. They are scrambling around the zone, wondering if they should retaliate with a hit, or start a fight, or wondering, perhaps, if they’re next. They spend the rest of the period distracted, trying to wreak revenge on Kasparaitis. New rules or not, this is Kasparaitis’s house and those are Kasparaitis’s corners. The Rangers win, 3-1.

Afterward, Kasparaitis sits in the locker room, satisfied. “I should drive you down every game,” he says. A pretty Russian television reporter and a pretty Lithuanian radio reporter are there to interview him on the occasion of his 800th game. “How does it feel?” asks the Russian reporter. “It’s good,” says Kasparaitis. “But I hope to play 1,000 NHL games, so . . . ” I take the opportunity to interview the Lithuanian reporter. Is Kasparaitis a national hero in Lithuania? Well, she says, he is one of only a handful of Lithuanian NHLers, but really the national sport is basketball.


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