WATERFORD, Mich. – You might say Travis Baranoski went on a roller coaster ride last summer without ever traveling to Cedar Point.
First, he graduated from East Grand Rapids High School after playing on the school’s varsity hockey team all four years.
Then he was drafted by the Metro Jets in the ninth round (152nd overall) of the North American 3 Hockey League draft.
Baranoski looked to have everything going for him – until the fateful morning of Aug. 18, the day he was supposed to be moving away from home to play for the Jets.
Keeland Johns, Baranoski’s best friend, was tragically killed by a drunk driver that morning, leaving a void in Baranoski’s life, but giving him motivation to get to Waterford and make an impact with the Jets.
“This season is dedicated to Keeland,” said a still-emotional Baranoski. “He was No. 25 in high school and I wear that number in honor of him.
”He came to East Grand Rapids when he was a freshman and we were always friends, but then our senior year, we became really close and we probably didn't go more than 2-3 days at a time without seeing each other last summer.”
Earlier this season, Keeland’s mother, Kriste Johns-Weber, took in a Jets’ game and put a smile on Baranoski’s face in the process.
”My friends and I go over to their house a lot and talk to her as often as possible,” explained Baranoski. “And I know she goes to a lot of East hockey games. We just try and keep her social and make sure she knows she's not alone.”
With the Jets, Baranoski has tallied four goals and four assists in 43 games this season and the 18-year-old Walker, Mich., native attributes his development and adjustment to the NA3HL level to a number of different aspects.
“I think the area my game has improved the most is my speed,” Baranoski said. “I'm way faster than I was last year and I credit that to our gym memberships at Fitness 19. We've put in a lot of work there and it's showing in my game. The coaches have helped me a lot in my development. They've pointed out a lot of small habits that hurt me as a player that prior coaches had not and it has helped me become a smarter hockey player and has really simplified the game for me.”
During the spring of 2013, Baranoski was introduced to Metro assistant coach Randy Wilson by Todd Bell, a Grand Rapids-area youth hockey coach and Baranoski went down to Waterford for a handful of spring conditioning skates with the club and was subsequently drafted in June.
“I think playing at East Grand Rapids helped me out a lot in preparing for this season,” said Baranoski, who lives with extended family in Rochester, Mich. “I played all four years and that's where I really learned to focus on playing the defensive zone and focusing on the details. It really made me the player I am today.
“As for the NA3, I think it provides a lot more exposure than most people give it credit for. I've personally been talked to by a few schools and I know my teammates have been talked to by more. I've also watched a lot of my teammates get opportunities at higher level such as Kevin Shand (NAHL’s Springfield Jr. Blues, USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders) and Lucas Linville (NAHL’s Port Huron Fighting Falcons), which is really cool to see.”
And on that note, Baranoski has his eye on moving up next season, but those opportunities will come. Right now, his priorities are right where they should be.
”My short-term goals are to finish the season strong and do anything I can to help my teammates and the team overall to succeed,” said Baranoski. “Personally in the long term, my goal is to move up, but at this time I'm trying to focus on this team and this season.”
All while knowing that the name on the front of the jersey matters most, the number on the back is just as special.
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
Last weekend, the Jets were looking for four points to gain ground in their hunt for a playoff spot, but came up with only two points.
T.J. Krajewski's goal at 13:36 of the third period snapped a 1-1 tie and the Jets held on to defeat the Toledo Cherokee 2-1 Friday night at the Team Toledo Ice House.
Kyle Shreve also scored for Metro and captain Zack MacKay assisted on both goals.
Jets' goaltender Kam Limburg made 38 saves between the pipes.
Metro jumped out to a 3-0 advantage, but lost the lead and the game in a 4-3 loss Saturday night to the Cherokee at Lakeland Arena.
Dominic Antonelli's goal at 1:12 of the third period broke the 3-3 tie and put the Cherokee ahead to stay.
Alex Holm, James Roznowski and MacKay scored for the Jets, while Limburg stopped 23 shots between the pipes.
With the loss, the Jets are six points behind Toledo for the fourth and final playoff berth in the East Division. Metro has four games remaining, while Toledo has six.
“The mood is still loose and fun like it has been all year, but it sort of goes unsaid that there is a big, heightened sense of urgency,” said Baranoski. “We don't necessarily talk about it. We just understand what the task is and what it calls for us to do. We want to make the playoffs and we know we need to play urgently, but we also know we can't play nervous and up-tight, so we keep it loose as much as we can.”
The Jets (19-23-2) next travel to Pittsburgh for two with the Vengeance this weekend at Blade Runners USA. Game time is 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and then a noon start on Sunday.
“With the final road trip coming up, I'm hoping it helps bring everyone closer and really get everyone on the same page,” MacKay said. “A sweep on the road would be huge for us and I'm sure we can do it if we can play two games for the full 60 minutes.”
Five Jets took part in the NA3HL Top Prospects Tournament this week at the Troy Sports Center in Troy, Mich.
The Jets were represented on Team East by MacKay and defensemen Brad Hepler and Carter Reid, while Holm and Shreve played for Team South.
Monday, MacKay had two assists in Team East's 6-3 win over Team South and Shreve scored for Team South, on a secondary assist from Holm.
Then on Tuesday, Reid had an assist on the East’s lone goal in a 9-1 loss to Team West, while Shreve scored again in Team South’s 6-4 loss to Team Central.
Finishing up on Wednesday, Reid scored and MacKay picked up an assist as Team Central downed Team East 6-4. Shreve then scored for the third game in a row, but Team South was routed 8-1 by Team West.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Cam Bazin, who was a forward with the Jets during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, hung up the skates in 2012 to play college lacrosse at Olivet College, located some 30 miles south of Lansing and 125 miles west of Detroit in Olivet, Mich.
Last season, the 21-year-old Troy, Mich., native had a record-setting season for the Comets.
In 2012-13, Bazin earned second-team All-MIAA honors and helped Olivet post a 10-7 record in its inaugural season of men’s lacrosse. He led team in virtually every statistical category – goals (69), points (99), shots (208), shots on-goal (127), man-up goals (10) and groundballs (144).
Bazin also now holds single-game school records for points (11), goals (9), shots (19) and groundballs (15), while his 69 goals tied for the lead among all NCAA Division III men’s lacrosse players and was second in goals per game (4.06) and fourth in points per game (5.82).
In 2010-11, Bazin tallied three goals and 10 points in 36 games with the Jets and the following year, rang up seven goals and 20 points in 32 games.
Photo (l-r): Travis Baranoski, Keeland Johns