Thirty-four minor league hockey players will take to the ice tonight as both the Augusta RiverHawks and Louisian IceGators hope to capitalize off a fresh start to the new year.
But for Egor Mironov, 2011 already has the feel of a new beginning, as he starts his first full year as an American citizen.
The Russian-born forward took the United States Oath of Citizenship in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Dec. 15 to become a naturalized citizen.
Though Mironov is from Moscow, he's more familiar with North America, where he first arrived as the 5-year-old son of a hockey star. His father, Dmitri, and uncle, Boris, both had long, successful careers in the NHL.
Dmitri was named an NHL All-Star in the 1997-98 season and was a part of the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. He also played in two Winter Olympics for Russia, one with Boris, who played 11 years in the NHL.
Egor Mironov grew to enjoy life in Canada and the U.S. as he moved from one hockey city to another. His father played for five different teams during his 10-year career, and Egor learned to live with the constant moving and family fame.
"It was definitely a big change coming over here to North America. You don't know the language. You don't know how to communicate," he said. "Making friends was the hardest part about growing up and going to different schools. I went to about a dozen different schools before I hit high school, because we'd be traveling all the time and moving."
His family received green cards to live in the United States while Dmitri played hockey. When that career ended, Egor wanted to start his own and remain in the U.S. He signed to play hockey at Niagara University in New York and soon after began his pursuit of U.S. citizenship.
"From there, I spent enough time in the United States to qualify for the applications and all the paperwork and all the procedures," he said. "A lot of money later and a lot of patience as well, I'm glad it's over with."
Now in the early stages of his own career, Mironov's rookie season began with long road trips to various training camps. He was cut from the Central Hockey League's Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees before their season began, but the 23-year-old forward didn't give up.
He made a 22-hour drive from the southernmost tip of Texas to Augusta to join the RiverHawks' training camp in progress. A week later he survived the final cut.
Mironov said changing hemispheres, attending a private university, starting a professional career and pursuing citizenship in a foreign country has all helped shape and broaden his world view.
"It helps you define yourself as a person," he said. "It helps you with skills like time management and understanding where other people come from and what means the most."
In his three months in Augusta, Mironov has proven his hockey pedigree as a member of the first-year team. He leads the squad with 11 goals through 27 games and ranks third in assists (nine). He's tallied six goals and five assists in nine games played as a U.S. citizen.
"I think everyone's playing well," he said. "Despite losing a few here and there. The team has really come together."
The RiverHawks (14-13) sit in the middle of the eight-team SPHL standings in fourth place, eight points out of first. They'll face last-place Louisiana (7-23) tonight before traveling to Columbus (12-15) on Friday and playing host to Fayetteville (12-16) on Saturday.