Unlike many countries in Eastern Europe, such as Latvia, Ukraine or the Czech Republic, Lithuania isn't known as a hockey power. Instead, it has developed a reputation for turning out top basketball players. For over three decades, there wasn't a single Lithuanian on any team in the Soviet major league. That changed in 1988, when 16-year-old Darius Kasparaitis made his debut with Dynamo Moscow, becoming the first Lithuanian to break into the league.
Kasparaitis had played hockey as a boy in his hometown of Elektrenai, where he was noticed by Dynamo scouts who invited him to the Soviet capital. After two years at the Dynamo school, he was put on the team. Kasparaitis spent four seasons with Dynamo, and his Soviet, now Russian, career culminated in a place on the Unified Team that won the gold medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. He was also named best defenseman at the World Junior Championships that year, his second appearance at the tourney and was a member of its World Championship team which was enough to convince the New York Islanders to select him fifth overall in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft. The 5'10", 210-pound rearguard immediately became a full-time member of the Islanders, playing 79 games in his rookie season, and he quickly became a fan favorite.
In the second round of the 1993 playoffs, the Islanders faced the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were the league's best team during the regular season and the defending Stanley Cup champions. The 20-year-old Kasparaitis was an important part of an Islander blue line corps that neutralized the league's top scorer, Mario Lemieux. Early in the 1996-97 season, Lemieux would remember Kasparaitis's play and recommend to the Penguins brass that they acquire him to bolster their blueline.
During his career, the hard-hitting Kasparaitis has suffered at least as much pain as he has inflicted on others. Knee injuries limited him to only 13 games in 1994-95 and 46 games in 1995-96. Despite having his two seasons cut short, Kasparaitis went on to defend Russia's colours at the 1995 World Championships and the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.
Kasparaitis went to play parts of six seasons with the Penguins before he was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche midway through the 2001-02 season. Prior to his arrival in Colorado, Kasparaitis was a member of Russia's Bronze Medal team at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The Salt Lake City Games would be Kasparaitis' third Olympic Games, after 1992 in Albertville and 1998 in Nagano.
The rugged defenceman from Lithuania stay in Colorado was brief, as he signed as a free-agent with the New York Rangers in the offseason. During the 2003-04 season Kasparaitis was limited to a mere 44 games, yet was part of Russia's entry to the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
In 2006, Kasparaitis represented Russia in the Winter Olympics in Turin.