Former Silvertip has a stick and an Olympic dream

VANCOUVER, B.C. — Ivan Baranka is waiting for his Olympic moment.

Yes, the former Everett Silvertips defenseman experienced walking into BC Place for the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Games, and, yes, he gets to put on the blue, red and white jersey of the Slovakian Olympic hockey team, but these Olympics still aren’t complete for Baranka.

Through two games he’s been little more than a spectator, not playing a minute in Slovakia’s opening loss to the Czech Republic or its upset win over Russia on Thursday night. Granted he had one heck of a seat for both games, but what the 24-year-old really craves is a chance to take the ice in his first Olympic Games.

“Well, I liked the opening ceremonies, that was really nice, but I’m still waiting for the most exciting part of my Olympics,” said Baranka, the first former Silvertip to make an Olympic roster. “That’s going to be when I get a couple of touches or just a little ice time.”

Maybe it will come today against Latvia, maybe it will happen after that if Slovakia advances to the medal round. Or maybe, Baranka understands, his moment won’t happen during these Olympics.

Baranka wasn’t on Slovakia’s initial roster announced in December, but injuries among the defenseman led to a late call. And don’t misunderstand Baranka; he’s grateful for his first spot on an Olympic roster. It’s just that he is hoping for more before these Games end.

“It’s an experience that is obviously going to help me become a better hockey player, but for now I’m kind of on the waiting list,” he said after watching his team defeat Russia in a shootout. “I made the team as the seventh D. On my (professional) team, I’m playing in every situation, power plays, everything, but I’ve got to know my role here, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Of course, Baranka is used to things not following a made-for-Hollywood script when it comes to his hockey career. After all, his road from Comcast Arena to Canada Hockey Place was a lot longer than the 115 miles of highway and city streets that separate the two arenas.

After two promising seasons in Everett (2003-05), Baranka joined the Hartford, Conn., Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League. He hoped that would be the next step on the way to the National Hockey League, but after only the smallest taste of NHL action with the New York Rangers — one game — Baranka realized his NHL opportunity was going to have to come another way.

In 2008, he left America for Russia to play for Spartak Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League, considered the second-best league in the world behind the NHL.

By earning consistent playing time with Spartak, he caught the eye of Slovakia’s coaches, eventually making his way onto the Olympic team.

“I was in (the) AHL for three years, and it felt like I needed to make some change, and I think I made a good choice,” Baranka said. “I’m playing right now in the second-best league in the world, and a lot of former NHL players come back to Russia. I’m playing for a good team, I get a lot of ice time.”

In the long run, Baranka still wants a career in the NHL.

“Obviously I never close the door for the NHL,” he said. “If there is a good chance, I will take it.”

Right now, however, the more immediate goal is a chance to play for his country.

“It’s tough not being out there, but I’ve just got to get used to the situation,” he said. “When we practice, I’ve got to work hard, keep my game strong and stay in shape.”

But even if Baranka doesn’t get that moment, that chance to skate in a packed arena wearing his country’s colors, he won’t go home dissatisfied.

“Some players play hockey for life and they never have an experience like this,” he said. “So it’s great for me to be at these Olympics.”

Herald Writer John Boyle:

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