by Jason Lockhart || AHL On The Beat Archive
Syracuse Crunch left wing Jon Mirasty sat in his stall in the locker room of the Oncenter War Memorial Arena, contemplating his future.
His third season with the Crunch was coming to a close, but it appeared as if he and the Columbus Blue Jackets, then the NHL affiliate of the Crunch, were moving in different directions for next season. It seemed as though it might be time for Mirasty to move on from the city that had learned quickly to embrace him and that he in turn grew fond of in three years.
Without warning, Mirasty’s decision became an easy one. Instead of Mirasty being forced to make the next move, it was the Crunch who helped make it for him. On Mar. 25, 2010, the Crunch announced an affiliation agreement with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, making way for a new era in team history.
It was exactly the change Mirasty was looking for, giving him the opportunity to trade in the navy, red and day-glow green for the Crunch’s new team colors of black, ice blue, metallic gold and burnt orange.
Mirasty, and Crunch fans, can partly thank former Syracuse enforcer Brandon Sugden for his initial arrival to the Salt City. Sugden, who played for the Crunch in parts of four seasons from 2003-07, was asked by Crunch president and CEO Howard Dolgon who the toughest player was that he ever played against. Sugden recalled a couple of tough bouts in the physical Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey (LNAH) in Quebec against Mirasty.
In 2007-08, Mirasty was invited to the Crunch’s training camp for a tryout and impressed the coaching staff and management enough to earn a spot on the roster.
“I came into camp not knowing what to expect,” said Mirasty. “I didn’t expect anything. I just thought I would give it a whirl. Three years later I’m still here.”
Mirasty did not disappoint the Crunch faithful. In his first season, he quickly became a fan favorite by sticking up for his teammates on a regular basis.
“It’s a tough building to play in,” said Mirasty of the War Memorial Arena. “The fans are great and expect a lot. There’s no better building to play in in the American Hockey League. I love it. The fans supported me right from the start. I just kept battling my way to different guys and started making a name for myself in the league. When you have so many loyal fans cheering for you, there’s a lot of pressure to do well.”
Following a successful first season, Mirasty was recruited back to Syracuse for two more years, continuing to excel in the protector role that he relishes. Over that span, Mirasty’s popularity among the Crunch fan base continued to grow. Not only was he an admired player on the ice, but he became a role model and earned praise for his community involvement as well, donating countless hours of his time to a number of charitable endeavors.
That role was threatened in the spring of 2010, but luckily for Crunch fans, Syracuse decided to make a switch in its NHL affiliation, making way for the Anaheim Ducks. Keeping Mirasty in Syracuse was a priority for the Crunch, who made it official by signing him to an American Hockey League contract on June 16.
“I came into this season like it was a completely new team,” said Mirasty. “I was looking for a change this summer, and this was a great opportunity to have that with Anaheim coming in and a new coaching staff. It’s a new place, but it’s not. I’m a new guy, but I’m not a new guy.”
When you first meet Mirasty, you would be hard-pressed to imagine him as an enforcer on the ice. Besides his mild-mannered personality, he is listed at 5 feet, 10 inches tall, shorter than most of his combatants. But for Mirasty, it’s all about heart and strategy.
What’s even more surprising about Mirasty is that when he smiles, he’s showing you his real teeth. He has a few cracks here and there, but he has managed to keep them all in place, in spite of the physical toll the rest of his body takes year after year.
Despite being just 28 years old, Mirasty has become one of the veterans of the 2010-11 Crunch squad. Apart from John Kurtz, who spent just seven games with the Crunch during the 2009-10 season, Mirasty is the only returning member.
The native of Flying Dust First Nation, Sask., spent much of the 2010 Crunch training camp helping his teammates get acclimated to their new environment. With such a young team in Syracuse this year, Mirasty has become a sort of father figure to his younger peers.
“I’ve been here for a few years and know the city really well,” said Mirasty. “It comes naturally for me to help guys out this season and give advice. When you come into a new city and don’t know what to expect, you need a guy like that.”
During team practices, Mirasty has been known to give tips to players on how to defend themselves.
“He gave me a few pointers for next time,” said left wing Leigh Salters. “Mirasty’s a guru, so it’s good to get some tips from him.”
As much as Mirasty enjoys helping and defending his teammates on the ice, it’s the Crunch fans that are the big reason he wanted to return to Syracuse for another season. Ever since his first season, the city of Syracuse has adopted Mirasty as one of their own, Mirasty, in turn, has embraced his home away from home.
“The city has been great to me,” said Mirasty of Syracuse. “Wherever I go, I run into people I know. I talk to a lot of friendly people, and have made a lot of friends away from the organization. It’s been a great time here.”
Mirasty has become one of the faces of the Crunch and arguably the most popular player in team history. When he was out of the lineup for the first few home games of the 2010-11 season, he could be seen getting swarmed by young fans when he walked throughout the arena. Mirasty is never one to pass up signing an autograph or talking to one of the Crunch faithful.
“It’s great having kids wanting to come talk to you,” said Mirasty. “You have to be there and be a role model in the community. And that’s what I try to do. Kids look up to you.”
With a new affiliation and a new set of teammates, it’s like starting all over again for Mirasty. It’s a new challenge for him that he has taken in stride and looks forward to conquering while on the ice in a familiar place.
“I had a lot of offers from different cities and different leagues, but something keeps bringing me back to this city,” said Mirasty. “The organization, led by owner Howard Dolgon and [senior vice president] Jim Sarosy, has treated me really well. That has had a great impact on why I keep coming back. But the number one reason I keep coming back is for the fans. I play for them.”