Translation courtesy Andrey Osadcehnko
**Original text – Alexander Voynov, Sport Weekend
– Do you remember your first game as a pro?
You bet! I was 17. I think it was season 1988/89. It was the last game of the season against Sokol Kiev. I was very nervous. I was put out there with Alexei Kasatonov – the legend. He tried to cheer me up as best as he could. We won 8:2 but I was frustrated.
The only two goals we allowed happened when I was on the ice. I was really frustrated because of that.
– Ever since then you and Kasatonov were always together.
Destiny kept us close to each other for which I am grateful. Alexei was my first partner in pro hockey. Then I work for him as a playing coach of Krylia Sovetov when he was a GM there.
– How does it feel to be a playing coach?
It’s not easy. Definitely not easy. You have to be a healthy man with a good heart. Once I was forced to miss a few games because of an injury and stayed on the bench. I lost a lot of nerves because in those 2 games. Don’t ever trust those who say it’s an easy job.
– By the way, he did it happen that you started to play hockey in Red Army while your older brother, Dmitry, began in Krylia Sovetov?
Both of us came to Red Army first. Dmitry is 7 years my major. When it was time for him to make a jump to the next level, it was hard for him to do so in Red Army. Especially after the military service [where he was for 2 years]. Back then Viktor Tikhonov’s stars were Kasatonov, Gusarov and Stelnov – they were the best [defensemen] in Russian hockey at the time. So Tikhonov called [Krylia Sovetov’s coach] Igor Dmitriev and told him: “Hey, there’s this guy called Dima Mironov. He’s got talent. Want to take for a year and teach him a few things?”
Igor agreed to do so. I don’t think him or my brother have ever regretted that. With him, Dmitry blossomed, got called up to national team, played at the Olympics in Albertville and then went to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs who drafted him.
– You followed him next year. In 1993 you went to play for the Winnipeg Jets. What did you expect to see in the NHL and what it turned out to be in fact?
Honestly, there wasn’t anything special about it. As they say, people are all the same. The Jets were a great team with a somewhat controversial GM Mike Smith.
– What do you mean – controversial?
He loved European hockey. In 1993 Smith gathered more than 10 Russians to play for the Jets. So we didn’t exactly feel bored there.
– What did the Canadians think about so many Russians playing for the Jets?
They greeted us well. We didn’t have any problems in communication and there were no conflicts. We were just people who came to the new world. So they as hosts tried to help us out. None of us spoke English. North Americans taught us how to speak it. We also taught them a few things (laughs).
– Kasatonov once said that when he first came to the NHL he asked tough-guys to teach him how to fight. What about you?
I didn’t do that. Although, we had a famous Albanian Tie Domi on our team. There was one other tough-guy – Kris King. In my first game for the Jets during the pre-season against the Rangers I got into a fight with Brian Noonan. I learned that he was a tough-guy only after the game. This is exactly why I went into the fight so fearlessly. Afterwards Domi walked up to me and said: “Come, my brave Russian friend. I’m gonna show you a few tricks for the future so you would keep a head for as long as possible”. He gave me a few lessons.
– You played 5 years for Red Army. Did you get into any fights during that time?
There wasn’t anything serious in the Soviet league. If something did occur, we still kept the gloves on. Kids’ stuff really. What it felt like to be in a real fight, I learned in my very first game across the ocean.
– What was the difference?
– Did you fight with your brother when you were kids?
As all brothers do. Dima is older than me, so I was punched more. It usually started like this – I didn’t like something, tried to fight him, get my ass kicked and calmed down. Since then I knew for a fact – fighting your brother is a bad idea.
– You still had to do it once. How many times were you asked about this one fight between you and Dmitry that occurred when the Jets played against the Maple Leafs?
Very, very often. Even though, that episode hardly deserves to be called a brawl. There was a pushing and shoving going on in front of the net that led to a 5-on-5 fight. There is a rule in the NHL – if it’s a 5-on-5 fight, everybody picks an opponent so nobody would have to fight against 2 guys. So I look at my opponent and see familiar features in his face. I go: “Is that you Dima?”. And he goes: “Hey Borya! Wanna bring back the childhood?”. We grabbed each other by the jerseys and laughed.
– Ironically enough, the Rangers ‘sent’ quite a few Russians home, you went to play for Vityaz afterwards. Kasparaitis left for SKA and Pavel Bure was forced to retire.
You know what they say – signing with the Rangers is the end of your career (laughs). Honestly, though, everyone had his reasons. Darius was getting old. Pavel had problems with his knee. By the way, it still bothers him. I was out of a contract. It wasn’t only us who were ‘struck’ upon. Team management really changed the roster that season. The team wasn’t winning, so the bosses decided to throw in some new blood in there. When a team with a huge budget misses the play-offs, it’s not okay.
Judging by the names on our roster we should have been up top. What’s even more interesting is that the were no conflicts or scandals within the team. The atmosphere was terrific. We just couldn’t win. We couldn’t even buy a win! So they decided to really change it around. It’s normal for the NHL when a team changes 15 players over the summer.
– How different is the atmosphere in an all-star team and blue-collar teams like the Oilers or the Jets?
When I became a Ranger, the team already had Leetch, Jagr, Bure and Richter. For sure, when you talk different to the guys who already made a name for themselves in the NHL. When I was with the Oilers everybody on the team was young and single. We tried to stay together off the ice. In New York almost everybody was married so it was rather problematic to go out to even a restaurant with somebody. But at the same time there was a terrific atmosphere in the dressing-room. There were no stars and blue-collars. Although, off the ice, everybody had a game of his own to play.
– What saddens you the most – the fact that you never played in the Stanley Cup final, or that you lost the final game at the Olympics in Nagano?
It is indeed very sad that I played 12 seasons in the NHL and never won the cup. At first I played for the Jets, then – for the young Oilers. The was one time with the Oilers when we barely made it to the play-offs and in the first round beat the Dallas Stars who were considered to be the favorites. A year after that we managed to pull of the very same thing with the Colorado Avalanche – we came back from 1:3 in the series.
Play-off hockey is a different and unpredictable game where everybody gives a 120% and every mistake can lead to a defeat. You have to prepare for these games differently. Yes, I didn’t win the Stanley Cup but I don’t regret it. Ray Bourque played for the Bruins for 21 seasons and won the cup only with the Avalanche where moved exactly for this reason.
The loss I’m sad about the most is the Nagano Olympics. All we had to do was to beat the Czechs in the final, and we didn’t.
– What about Salt Lake City? Do you think Sergei Samsonov scored that goal on Team USA?
People argued a lot about that. The replays were everywhere. Here’s my opinion. I don’t think there was a goal. I think the puck hit the post. And this is how it’s going to go down in history.