Darius Kasparaitis 2

Captain Crunching

by Mike Aker

With the preseason ending, the Rangers still have a plethora of questions left to answer beginning with final roster spots, forward/defensive pairings, and ending with the inauguration of their new captain, most likely at the home opener on Thursday night.

Many non-hockey fans and casual observers question the importance of having a captain and his elevated role versus the 22 other members of a National Hockey League team.

It’s clear that the Rangers need someone to set an example of a hard work ethic, mentor the younger players, and help the team into forming an identity. With the locker room as culturally divided between North Americans, Czechs, and Russians, someone needs to make sure these guys are all on the same page.

Many people like Purinton, Strudwick, and Lundmark have worn an “A” during the preseason, but there are only four true candidates to hold the Rangers captaincy.

As Stan Fischler pointed out during the Rangers-Devils game last week, Jaromir Jagr would be the obvious person to lead. He is respected by all players based on his previous merits in Pittsburgh, can electrify the crowd, and even held the captaincy for the Penguins. Personality wise though, he is not the right individual for the role. This is the same Jaromir Jagr who whined all throughout his tenure in Washington about anything from ice time to coaching, never quite felt comfortable as captain of the Ice Chickens before that, and informed the NY press a few weeks ago that he is reluctant to become captain because English is not his native language.

While many Rangers fans disliked the acquisition of pivot Steve Rucchin from Anaheim over the summer, claiming that it would take away another spot from a youngster, Rucchin’s past experience as captain of the Mighty Ducks and his hard work ethic make him the frontrunner for the “C.” Everything seemed in his place, until a groin injury greatly limited his game and training time this preseason, also limiting his interaction as a player with the fans. There is no telling how long this injury will affect Rucchin, who at times can be oft injured. There is also no guarantee of him being anything more than a one-year hired gun for the Rangers organization.

Winner of the 2003-04 Steven McDonald “Extra Effort” Award and showing his improved shot and stick handling ability, there have been suggestions that Rangers winger Jed Ortmeyer be given the captaincy. While Ortmeyer’s hard work ethic and the Garden fans fondness of him cannot be denied, Jed has only been a professional hockey player for 3 years, and will spend the season on New York’s 3rd and 4th lines. His personality isn’t very vocal, but more that of someone who sets a tone through actions. At this point, an “A” is appropriate for Jed, not the “C.”

The final candidate is entering his third year with the Rangers organization, is outgoing, and familiar with the entire New York-metropolitan area as he originally came up in the Islanders system; defenseman Darius Kasparaitis. Putting his Islanders roots aside, Kasparaitis has shown the ability to keep up with this quicker NHL, worked hard skating and tutoring the Rangers prospects before the beginning of regular training camp, and is considered a charismatic and all-around “good guy” by the press. He has matured from his days of recklessly hitting anything opposing that moves, and besides last season, has proven to be fairly durable.

With these facts and given the roster, it is clear that the logical choice, and one who would be happy and take pride in wearing the “C” on his jersey, would be Darius Kasparaitis. 

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