Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Karlis Skrastins Held the Key to Longevity

It was in February 2007 when I sat down one-on-one with then Colorado Avalanche's Latvian blueliner Karlis Skrastins -- in the same month he broke Tim Horton's durability record for most consecutive games played by a defenseman. 

Karlis towered at 6' 2" and his handsome devilish smile was framed by long flowing blonde locks. He was a pleasure to be around. 

Here is part of that conversation:

What's the key to longevity? 
Getting ready and getting focused for one game at a time. It’s a lot of work and a lot of effort. I think it’s the combination of work and a lot of luck, too. Hockey is a tough game to play. I had all kinds of injuries, but they weren’t serious enough to stop me from playing the game.

What was your worst injury? I had a broken wrist. It was one year before the lockout and close to the end of the season.

How did you gain confidence in the wrist when coming back from the injury? I try a couple practice. I try one game, second game, and was able to play the same game that I was playing before. If I would play forward, of course, it would be tougher for me. I was able to do almost everything I had to do. That season I was playing really good. It was one of my best seasons.

Talk about your first opportunity to play in the NHL. Dreams come true, you know. I remember my first game. I never thought I was going to play so many games, especially so many games in a row. When I played my first NHL game, it was, oh, my dream come true. It was amazing. It makes you feel good you can play in the best league with the best players in the world. If you keep working, your dreams can come true.

Who were some of the people who have influenced your career? It was more back in Europe. I don’t know if you know Russian coach Vladimir Yurzinov. He asked me to come to his team in Finland. I spent three really good years there. It was my step up in my career. Without his help, without his helping me to believe in myself, I couldn’t be in the NHL for sure. It’s where I got drafted – Finland. I kind of got my opportunity in Nashville. Nashville was a great organization and those people were helping me, too.

How was the cultural adjustment for you when you first came over to North America? It was hard. The first year, there were a couple of Russian guys to help me get used to American life. The first year I played in Milwaukee, the farm team. I learned a lot about small ice, about American hockey. Everything was step-by-step. It wasn’t like right away. I learned my language, too, day by day. I didn’t have another choice if I wanted to be here.

What has the game taught you personally? It’s what I love. It’s your job. It’s what you dream about. If I had another chance, I would do it exactly the same.

Karlis died this morning in a plane crash, along with his entire Kontinental Hockey League Lokomotive team, which was headed for its opening game from Yaroslavl to Minsk, Russia. 

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