Friends and rivals, Meadow Lake enforcers sign in KHL

Jon Mirasty deals a nose-breaking blow to the side of friend and rival Jeremy Yablonski's face during a matchup when Yablonski played for the Binghamton Senators, Dec. 4, 2009. “I just think one of the most exciting things is me and Jon get to play together. We get to start off this adventure together,” Yablonski said. (Photo Submitted)

By Ben Ingram

When Jon ‘Nasty’ Mirasty and Jeremy Yablonski meet each other on the ice, it’s not usually long before the fists are flying.

The two Meadow Lake pugilists have developed an on-ice rivalry punctuated by broken noses and swollen eyes, but starting this fall, they’ll be playing on the same team.

The veteran enforcers have signed contracts with Chekhov Vityaz of Russia’s high-powered Kontinental Hockey League, a team proud of its tough-as-nails heritage.

“We’ve had a lot of fights with each other,” Mirasty said, “two years ago was (one chosen as) one of the top-10 fights of the decade, voted on TSN.”

Mirasty and Yablonski have both spent several years in the American Hockey League, the minor-pro league used to feed and develop NHL rosters. Mirasty has been top-five in the league for penalty minutes for several of his seasons with the Syracuse Crunch, the minor team for the Anaheim Ducks.

Much of his time spent in the box has been a result of lengthy bouts with Yablonski, but fans might be surprised about the real nature of their relationship.

“I really look forward to playing with him. Over the last few years we became good friends, through all the fights we’ve been in and stuff,” said Mirasty, who grew up in Flying Dust First Nation.

The 31-year-old Yablonski will be leaving the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, a team affiliated with the New York Islanders, to join Mirasty in Russia.

“The last couple of years we were both rated as two of the toughest guys in the American league,” Mirasty said. “There’s a huge rivalry between him and I, fighting each other.”

When asked which of the two held the advantage, Mirasty couldn’t decide, as most of their fights were “toe-to-toe,” and neither enforcer ever achieved a clear defeat over the other.

“Maybe we’d have to have a best of 10 fights and see who comes out on top,” he joked.

Both Mirasty and Yablonski have families back home. Yablonski hopes to get frequent visits from his wife and daughter who live in Boise, Idaho while Mirasty’s wife Janessa expects to stay in New York to finish her nursing education.

With the family at home, their transition to living in Russia is something they described as a coming adventure.

“We’re best friends off the ice. People don’t understand that we go out and have the fights we’ve had, then after the game we’re just like two long-time buddies,” Yablonski said. “It’s exciting for both of us, it’s nice to have a kind of brother going over there to Russia.”

After Yablonski decided to sign with Chekhov, he quickly found out that Mirasty would be joining him. The team made the decision unaware that they were close friends, but he expects the intent is to put them on the same line.

“They’ve always had tough guys. I’d imagine they’re going to put us on a line that’s going to go out there and take care of business,” Yablonski said.

The transition will not be limited to a change in culture for the two. Russia’s KHL is generally considered the second-highest level in professional hockey, behind the NHL. The players will also have to adapt to playing on larger Olympic-sized rinks, but Yablonski isn’t deterred.

“You’re expected to play there,” he said. “I think we’re going to see more ice (time) than we have in the past.”

For him, it’s the opportunity to ally himself with his biggest rival and best friend that he’s most looking forward to.

“It’s going to be one of the best things I’ve looked forward to in hockey through a lot of years,” Yablonski said.

Mirasty couldn’t agree more.

“Jeremy’s one of the toughest guys I’d ever fought. It’s nice to be on his team now, I don’t have to fight him,” Mirasty said with a grin.

 

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