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Who's Cooler: Kasparaitis or Tucker

You Can't Spell Kasparaitis Without C-O-O-L
by Michael Dell

Let me just start by saying that I love Darcy Tucker like a brother. A brother I've never met or spoken with, but a brother nonetheless. Hell, it was my idea to do this whole tribute issue. So I refuse to make fun of him. Usually in these point\counterpoint things I help build my case by ripping the subject of the opposing view to shreds with a series of sarcastic statements and caustic quips. But not today, my friend. I have come not to bury Tucker, but to praise Darius Kasparaitis.

The competition for the title of the Coolest Player in the NHL is clearly a two-man race between Darcy and Kaspar. No one else is even close. They could both start listening to The Backstreet Boys and watching Jay Leno and they'd still be a country mile ahead of the pack. But as cool as Tucker is, and Don Knotts knows he's cool, even he is no match for Kasparaitis. The Wacky Lithuanian is something special.

Darius Kasparaitis
Darius Kasparaitis
by Meredith Martini

When exploring Kaspar's coolness, it's perhaps best to start with the obvious: his name. Darius Kasparaitis. It just drips coolness. In fact, wasn't that the name of the James Bond villain in "From Russia with Love"? Of course, it also sounds a little bit like some sort of liver ailment. "Yeah, the doctor says I have to give up the sauce. He says I got a touch of the Darius Kasparaitis." It's a name with character. There's no forgetting Darius Kasparaitis. You may not know how to spell it, but you won't forget it. Meanwhile, my name sounds like the kid you don't remember going to high school with. Aw, it still hurts. But I digress...

Then there's his sweater. Darius wears the number 11. And, as we all know, that's the sign of Cullen. Need I say more?

When it comes to the actual game itself, there's no denying that Darius is a world-class defenseman. A ferocious body-checker, Kaspar leads the NHL in hits per game (3.6). And a Kasparaitis hit isn't just your average check. Oh no. Of his 173 credited hits this season, a good 120 were probably of the highlight variety. He puts more people out than an anesthesiologist.

Kasparaitis is simply the best hitter in hockey. A very compact 5'11, 209 pounds, Darius generates his destructive power thanks to enormous leg strength. He just drives right through guys, exploding at the moment of impact. It's a beautiful thing to watch. From a safe distance, that is.

Kasparaitis checks come in a variety of forms. There's the "You're an idiot so I'm gonna knock you the (sunshine) out" check. This occurs when opposing forwards have the audacity to look down at the puck while being on the same side of the ice as Darius. Not a good idea. Kaspar's not scared to step up and lay the smack down with the People's Shoulder. The most famous example of this would be the colossal collision with Eric Lindros last spring that left the Philadelphia captain a broken man. It was, and still is, the biggest hit ever witnessed by man or chimp. Kaspar knocked Lindros the (sunshine) out. That doesn't happen every day.

Then of course there are the numerous grinding checks along the boards in the defensive zone. Because of his powerful legs, Darius doesn't need to build up momentum to deliver a punishing blow. Somebody will dig a puck free from the wall and try to cycle low, Darius takes one step and it's lights out.

And heaven help the poor soul that tries to beat Darius to a puck dumped into the Penguin zone. He'll race right alongside and let the guy think he has a play before reminding him what life's all about. The most recent example happened this past week when the Montreal Canadiens came to town. The workers at the Civic Arena are still trying to scrape Vincent Damphousse off the boards.

But by far, Kasparaitis is most feared for his devastating hip checks. Anyone trying to go wide on Kaspar is begging to get wrecked. Observing Darius throw a hip check is a wondrous thing. One gets the sensation of witnessing an animal stumble into a steel trap. Before they realize they're in danger, it's too late. The jaws have snapped shut.

Once Kaspar makes up his mind to go for the hip check, there's nothing his prey can do. It's automatic for the people. He lulls his quarry to sleep by innocently backing off the blue line and opening an inviting lane down the boards. Once the bait is taken, Darius squats down, somehow manages to accelerate while looping sideways, and thrusts his hip into the helpless victim. From there it's a one-way ticket to Palookaville, with great passing scenery of the ice, the ceiling, and the ice.

Some people complain about Darius going after their knees, but they're just punks. It's a clean check. If you're not man enough to risk a cripplin', then don't go down the wall. It's all part of the game.

While his physical play overshadows all else, people often neglect the rest of Kaspar's game. Sure, he may shoot worse than the Apple Dumpling Gang, but Darius is an excellent skater that moves the puck extremely well. He'll never be a serious point producer, but that's not his job. He's the very definition of a defensive defenseman. He hits everything in sight, blocks shots, works the front of the net, and is usually smart in his own zone. Okay, so he's made his share of mistakes, but who hasn't? I know I've made mine. The last one about five weeks ago. Aw, it still hurts. But I digress...

Like any great athlete, Darius has a flair for the dramatic. He'll come through with the big play when his team needs it most. If the Pens are sagging, rest assured that Kaspar will make something happen. It takes but one Kasparaitis check to turn a game around. He's provided so many sparks over the years that Smokey the Bear once tried to beat him to death with a shovel.

When Petr Nedved made his return to the Civic Arena as a member of the New York Rangers, guess who was there to welcome him? First shift. Nedved tried to find the puck in his skates along the right wing of the Ranger zone. Trouble. Darius stepped up and drilled him to the ice with considerable malice. The Igloo crowd went crazy go nuts. The fans wanted a pound of flesh. Kaspar gave it to 'em. That's just the kind of guy he is.

Aside from holding out like a crybaby, the easiest way to get on Kaspar's hit list is to mess with one of his teammates. Take liberties with another Bird and it won't be long before your next of kin gets a phone call. Darius is all about standing up for his teammates.

On January 30, Boston's Rob Dimaio made the unfortunate mistake of running Alexei Kovalev into the boards from behind. Kovalev had gone back to touch up an apparent icing, but the stripes blew the call. Dimaio never slowed down and plowed the unsuspecting Russian winger into the backboards. Kaspar was not amused. From that point on Dimaio could have replaced his jersey's spoked-B with a bull's eye. He didn't finish the game unscathed. Kaspar saw to that, rocking Dimaio with a devastating open-ice hit.

When Kasparaitis goes out for revenge, he does it with hard, clean checks. He doesn't hide behind the stick. He doesn't run people from behind. The biggest misconception about Kaspar is that he's a dirty player. Nothing could be further from the truth. I've never once seen him use his stick on an opponent. Everything is with the body. Kaspar will never pass up an opportunity to finish a check. It doesn't matter the score or the time of the game, Darius is gonna deck ya. He just doesn't quit. He's a competitor. He'll do whatever it takes to win. If that makes him dirty, then every player in the NHL should be so filthy.

Need proof of his toughness and commitment to the team? Darius has played the entire year with a torn ACL in his right knee. I'll repeat that. Darius has played the entire season with a torn ACL. That's pretty damn cool. He originally suffered the injury in a preseason contest and was expected to undergo season- ending knee surgery. But Darius wasn't goin' out like no punk. Most mortal men would have had the surgery and sat back and collected a paycheck for the next six months. Not Kaspar. He fought through the pain and was back on the ice after missing a mere eight games.

Sadly, Kaspar recently re-injured his right knee in a game against the Edmonton Oilers. The knee was badly swollen and everyone feared the worst. But Kaspar didn't care. After one day he gave the crutches back to the trainers. Even after an MRI revealed more damage had been done to the knee, Kaspar insisted that he wouldn't be gone long. He's going to rehab for a week and then see how it feels. Aw, that's just Kaspar being Kaspar. Needless to say, if he's forced to have surgery the Pens are beat.

See, all of the above would be more than enough to make Kasparaitis the coolest player in the NHL, but there's more. Oh, there's more. The thing that places Kaspar in his own stratosphere of coolness is his sense of humor. He brings the comedy.

Earlier in the season I reported how the Penguins took a bunch of area kids shopping for winter clothes. For those that missed it, Darius stole the show, pulling off the always popular pretend- the-little-boy-asked-for-high-heeled-shoes gag. It was classic.

Then about a month ago the club held a "Skate with the Pens" event that allows fans to take the Civic Arena ice with their heroes. The kids all flocked to Darius. Then they all got whacked. Whenever an equipment-clad youngster approached, Kaspar swatted them away or bumped 'em to the ice with a hip check. They got up, he knocked 'em down. A good time was had by all.

Kaspar also isn't scared to speak his mind in the papers. He tells it like it is. With the Penguin forwards refusing to get the puck deep during a recent losing skid, Darius only half- jokingly said that he'd start hitting his own teammates if they didn't quit turning over the puck. The club responded with a win the next night.

And we can't dismiss the fact that Darius is currently engaged in a blood feud with Darcy Tucker. Anyone crazy enough to mess with Tucker is Alaska cool.

Don't even front. Don't even Wu-Tang Clan me. Darius Kasparaitis is the coolest hockey player... IN THE WORLD! I could go on singing Kaspar's virtues for hours, but now's the time to yield the floor to my esteemed adversary. Jim?

Tucker Spells Coolness
by Jim Iovino

Delly, you ignorant slut.

How could you possibly say Darius Kasparaitis is the coolest player in the National Hockey League in the LCS Hockey Darcy Tucker tribute issue?

That's just wrong. The whole idea behind the Darcy Tucker tribute issue is to worship Darcy Tucker, not to explain, in horrific detail, the coolness of Darius Kasparaitis.

Sure, Kasparaitis is cool and all, but if it wasn't for Tucker, Kaspar's rating wouldn't be as high as it is. Was it not Tucker who goaded Kaspar into that classic battle during the Pens-Lightning game earlier this season? It was. Who else would Kaspar have gone up against - a little rich boy like Vincent Lecavalier? Sure, the first-round pick will take on Ottawa's Marian Hossa, but I highly doubt it he'd pick a fight with Kaspar.

Kaspar has his cool moments, but so does Tucker. Remember that week early in the season when Darcy seemed to score seven goals in a row by crashing the net, running over a goaltender and knocking the puck across the goal line all in one motion...that was great, that was fun. You'd have to watch some old-school hockey games on ESPN Classic to find exciting action like that.

Tucker is old school. He's not flashy. He's not a show off. He's just a pure hard-nosed, grind-it-out hockey player.

You know, Delly, it's the little things in life that go unnoticed, yet are so important. Little things like taking a hit to make a play. Or going into the corners and mucking it up along the boards to win the puck. Or picking up the toilet seat when you go to the bathroom and putting it back down when you're done so your girlfriend doesn't yell at you when you come out.

Tucker does all of those things well. He's just that kind of guy.

But doing the little things means you never get as much attention as you would if you scored a hat trick. Or if you knocked the opposing team's top center out of the lineup for 17 games after catching him with his head down coming through center ice and laying him out with a solid shoulder to the noggin.

Any great player in the game could do that. But to put in the same workman-like effort night in and night out and being a team player takes more concentration -- more skill, if you will -- than most players are willing to put forth.

Darcy Tucker is willing to do that for his team -- even if his team is the lowest-rated in the National Hockey League.

These are tough times for anyone on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster, Tucker included. But you don't see him whining or complaining about wanting out. You don't see him coasting through the regular season dreaming of the vacation time he'll soon be having.

Tucker continues to work hard. He's setting an example for his teammates. He's setting an example for kids across America. And he's setting an example for you and me.

If that isn't coolness, Michael Dell, then I don't know what is.

Thank you and good night.

LCS Hockey

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