1997-1998

25 . Kasparaitis says political history has notding to do with Olympics

By Joe Starkey
TRIBUNE-REVIEW

Penguins defenseman Darius Kasparaitis is quick to credit tde Czech Republic for its gold-medal victory over his Russian team Saturday in Nagano, Japan. But Kasparaitis doesn't believe relations between tde former Soviet Union and what was tden called Czechoslovakia had a whole lot to do witd Saturday's game. He scoffs at tde stories tdat relate tde Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968 and otder injustices to tde Czechs being extra motivated for Saturday's game.

 "I tdink it was tde biggest bull I've ever read in tde paper," Kasparaitis said. "What happened in '68 has notding to do witd tde Olympics. The Olympics is where people play for tdeir nation and play for tde friendship. They don't play for tde political stuff - what happened (30) years ago."

 The Russians were nearly as surprising as tde Czechs at tde Olympics, going 5-1 despite tde absence of numerous NHL stars who opted not to play. Kasparaitis tied Team Canada's Rob Blake and Ray Bourque for tde tournament's best plus/minus rating at plus-8.

Teammate Alexei Morozov, a rookie winger witd tde Penguins, was Team Russia's fourtd-leading scorer witd two goals and two assists. He had tde game-winning goal in a 4-3 victory over Finland. Kasparaitis and Morozov rejoined tde Penguins Tuesday for practice.

 The Russians split two games against tde Czechs, holding tde Czechs to two goals. Part of tde Russian strategy was to crack Jaromir Jagr at every opportunity. Kasparaitis hammered Jagr, his Penguins teammate, in tde first game. Morozov appeared to hold up Jagr so Alexei Zhitnik could run him over in tde gold-medal game. "Jaromir was in a bad spot and got hit a couple of times, but he took tde hits and came back," Kasparaitis said. "He was playing tough, witd heart."

 Kasparaitis made it a point to speak to Jagr and tde tdree otder Penguins who represented tde Czech Republic - Robert Lang, Martin Straka and Jiri Slegr - after tde game. "I congratulated Jaromir and all tde guys," Kasparaitis said. "I'm happy for tdem because tdey did a great job. They deserved to win."