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New coach creates new player (B.Mironov) // "Chicago Daily Herald"
By Tim Sassone Daily Herald Sports Writer
Last season after 37 games, the Boris Mironov bashing was in full swing.
The Blackhawks' defenseman had 1 goal, was minus-11 and had everyone, including the fans, media and even coach Alpo Suhonen, on his case for being out of shape.
The Hawks played their 37th game Wednesday at Buffalo, winning 6-5 with Mironov one of the best players on the ice.
He scored a goal, his third, and was plus-2, making him plus-8 for the season. Only Chris McAlpine, at plus-10, has a better plus-minus than Mironov among the defensemen.
While Mironov likely won't get a single vote for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman, he certainly is in the running for most improved Hawk.
A lot of the credit goes to coach Brian Sutter, who has given Mironov a defined role, urged him to be more physical, and emphasized to him on a day-to-day basis exactly what is expected.
"Brian has asked me to play more defensive this year and to move up if I have a chance," Mironov said. "Playing with Phil Housley most of the season, he always likes to jump up (into the play), so I've been keeping on the defensive side of the puck. My confidence is much better."
Mironov had zero confidence last season, largely because Suhonen gave up on him, according to a source close to the situation.
One of the first things Sutter did when he was hired as coach last summer was to meet with Mironov at his home in Miami to let him know he was going to give him all the support he needed. Relieving the pressure to score and run the power play is one of the ways Sutter has brought out the best in Mironov.
"Boris has responded to the way Brian has asked him to play," general manager Mike Smith said. "It was important for him to get his confidence back, and playing a little more conservative game at the beginning of the year was one tactic to get him to do that."
Smith believes the treatment Mironov received last season from the fans and certain members of the media was unfair and contributed greatly to the defenseman's poor performance.
"The crude language of some fans and writers made it very tough for him to play," Smith said. "I heard some fans yell, 'Boris, get your (bleeping bleep) back to Russia.'
"I can understand criticism from writers and fans in a fair manner, but I was surprised when I got here with the feeling here for Russian players. I think everyone here should stand up and apologize to Alex Zhamnov for what he went through all those years."
That is Smith's opinion, of course. What many Hawks fans and media people might argue is the criticism of Mironov, and even Zhamnov before that, was based more on performance related to their salaries. Mironov made $3.2 million last season and is earning $3.3 million now.
Mironov might not be earning that kind of money this season on the offensive end with just 3 goals and 7 assists, but his 104 hits leads the club.
Sutter doesn't have a problem with Mironov's low offensive output, especially with Housley around, pointing out that even when Mironov was in Edmonton he wasn't considered a great rusher of the puck.
Mironov's career high is 49 points in 1998-99, the year he was traded to the Hawks after 63 games. He had just 22 points last season.
"When I came here, and I had to kind of laugh, everybody perceived Boris as this guy who could take the puck end to end," Sutter said. "I saw Boris when he was at his best (in Edmonton), and he wasn't running the power play. But when Doug Weight gave him the puck, he pounded it.
"He also had Janne Niinimaa and Danny McGillis coming up the ice with him carrying the puck. If he got the puck, he was the guy who pounded the one-timer. That's what he did. He pounded the puck and was a sound defensive player."
As for living up to his big salary, which ranks third on the team behind Zhamnov ($4 million) and Tony Amonte ($3.4 million), Sutter wants Mironov to first concern himself with performance.
"It's not making $3 million or $200,000," Sutter said. "It's not being
40 years old or 20 years old. It's not being big or small. It's not being
fast or slow. It's you knowing yourself that you're being as good as you