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New Wing Mironov forged in Russian hockey foundry
BY JASON LA CANFORA
Oleg Mironov knew his sons could be world-class athletes.
Mironov, a former cyclist, had lived a journey similar to theirs. If he drove them just enough, if he got them in the best hockey schools, if he surrounded them with the right influences, everything would be all right.
So he came to the rink for all their practices. He darted from rink to rink across Moscow, watching Dmitri with the Soviet Wings, and Boris, now 26, at the Red Army hockey school, asking others what they thought.
His boys would both become stars, play in the NHL, represent their homeland as top defensemen in an upstart march to a silver medal in the Nagano Olympics last month.
And now Dmitri, 32, joins the Red Wings to bolster their defensive corps for the stretch run. He should be playing tonight when his old team, the Mighty Ducks, comes to Joe Louis Arena.
"(Dmitri's) dad was a great hockey father," Wings center Igor Larionov said. "He passed away last year, and it was a big loss for them. I know the family for a long time. His two sons attended hockey school at Red Army in the early 1980s.
"(Oleg) was always around them to watch them develop. He was always at the rink. I had a chance to talk to him, and he was a very nice guy.... Dmitri and Boris are great hockey players, and it's great to see Dmitri in our organization."
Oleg didn't get to see his boys play in the Olympics. But his influence and motivation live on in his children.
"He pushed us really hard, keeping us playing," Dmitri Mironov said. "I appreciate that right now."
Dmitri's career began when he was 15, in hockey school, trying to break into the Red Army team. That was like trying to crack the lineup of an all-star team. Future NHL stars such as Slava Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Igor Kravchuk, Sergei Zubov and Vladimir Malakhov were part of the dominating defense at the time.
So Mironov headed to the Soviet Wings, another elite club but with less dominating star-power. There he rose through the ranks, becoming one of the best defensemen in his country. He entered the NHL with Toronto in 1992 and moved on to Pittsburgh and Anaheim.
Wednesday, he was reunited with countrymen Fetisov, Larionov and Slava Kozlov at practice, skating on a five-man unit with Darren McCarty. Eventually, Sergei Fedorov figures to join the group for some shifts, giving the Wings a variation of the Russian Five that Konstantinov anchored before last June's limo accident ended his career.
"He's a great hockey player," Larionov said. "The people in Detroit don't know what to expect from him, but he's a tremendous hockey player. Of course, there is no one who can replace Vladdie. But he's a very skillful guy -- a very experienced and very smart player."
Mironov grew up idolizing Fetisov, and he spent the last 15 minutes of Wednesday's practice kneeling on the ice, making small talk with the legend. The two are likely to spend considerable time paired on the ice.
"It looks like we click right away in practice," Fetisov said. "We grow up in same system and actually he grow up in my hockey school, Red Army school. So I know him since he was a little boy, his brother also. We've been taught by same coaches in young years, and I don't think a lot was lost in the NHL years."
Getting along with Mironov never was a problem. He stayed out of trouble as a kid. When his brother would challenge kids five years his elder, Dmitri would step in and make peace, prevent a beating. He was always a bit quiet and reserved, not as flashy or feisty as Boris on and off the ice.
"I'm really a quiet kind of guy," said Dmitri, 6-feet-3, 215 pounds. "At that time, I need to take care of him. I try to keep him in line, but it doesn't work some times. He wants to run around, and he gets bigger and bigger. But I try really hard."
Mironov is friendly but not garrulous, hulking but not intimidating.
"I don't speak too much," he said. "I'm like more concentrated to myself."
Give him a huge lake, a few fish and utter silence, and he's in bliss. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer, but given a few months to explore the water and wilderness of Michigan, his decision on where he wants to finish his career might get a little simpler.
Mironov has participated in the last three NHL Players Association fishing tournaments, placing in the top 10. He's a bass-fishing enthusiast.
"I start in Russia a long time ago," Mironov said. "We used to go out to Moscow. We'd get a tent, a big fire. I like being outside, especially with not too many people around, on a big lake. You kind of relax up there from a long season."
How long that season lasts will have something to do with how well Mironov plays, taking a spot in the top-four defensive rotation and playing the point on the power play.
There's little doubt that Mironov, who was third on the Ducks in scoring, will mesh with his teammates. There's no doubt the Wings are much-better suited for a Stanley Cup repeat now than they were three days ago.
"I think it's a great choice by our organization to get him for the playoffs," Larionov said. "The next few games will show how impressive he is.".