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Grizzlies blue-liner Baran eyes world junior medal with Slovakia

Baran and Victoria host Alberni Valley on Friday
Richard Baran will suit up for the Grizzlies this weekend before departing for Slovakia’s world junior camp. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Canadian fans on the West Coast are in for morning hockey when the 2024 world junior championship begins on Boxing Day in Gothenburg, Sweden.

But it will be prime-time viewing for Richard Baran’s family in Slovakia as the ­Victoria Grizzlies defenceman represents his nation in the tournament: “The time difference is not so ideal for Canada fans but it is great for my family for watching back home.”

The six-foot-one blue-liner has two more spins around B.C. Hockey League rinks, tonight at The Q Centre as the Grizzlies (15-8-1) play the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (15-9) and Saturday night in Nanaimo against the ­Clippers (12-9-2), before he heads next week to the Slovakian world junior championship pre-camp.

“It is such a great and awesome honour to play for your country,” said the 18-year-old native of Bratislava.

“I believe we have a good and special team and we are going to do everything possible to win a medal.”

Indeed, Baran is from an emerging hockey nation that won bronze at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics with Juraj Slafkovsky from the Slovakian senior national side selected first overall by the Montreal ­Canadiens in the 2022 NHL draft.

“We all watched the last Olympics with pride and I hope to one day play in the Olympics, too,” said Baran.

He might just get there and already has national-team experience, beginning last summer in the prestigious U-18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup with Grizzlies forward Tobias Pitka, and now continuing at the world juniors. Baran said is looking forward to returning to Sweden, a great hockey nation, where he played with the U-18 Lidingo Vikings.

Baran and Pitka were recruited by Grizzlies coach and GM Rylan Ferster out of South Kent School in Connecticut, which has produced the likes of veteran NHL defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere, Ottawa Senators forward Shane Pinto, New York Rangers defenceman Zachary Jones and Philadelphia Flyers forward Joel Farabee.

Baran, a puck-moving rearguard, came as advertised and has three goals and 10 assists for 13 points in 24 games for the Grizzlies.

“My confidence has really grown here in Victoria,” he said.

Baran grew up playing hockey, soccer and tennis and has committed to play in NCAA Div. 1 with the Arizona State Sun Devils. It will be another step in his hockey journey from Bratislava to Sweden to Connecticut to Vancouver Island, although hockey in the desert will certainly be a novel twist in his quest of a pro career.

“It [Arizona] is not really a hockey state but they do have an NHL team,” he noted.

Until then he will look to continue his development with the Grizzlies upon return from the world juniors, having greatly enjoyed his year on the Island to date.

Since Slovakia does not have a coastline, his greatest pleasures off-ice here have been walks along the ocean, he said.

The Grizzlies, however, are most pleased about the strides he has taken inside The Q Centre.

ICE CHIPS: Baran and ­Slovakia will be in a group at the world juniors with the U.S., Switzerland, Norway and defending silver-medallist Czechia, the latter which will include returning forward Robin Sapousek from the Victoria Royals of the WHL. … Baran and his Slovak teammates will meet Germany and Finland in pre-tournament games. … The other group consists of defending-champion Canada, host Sweden, Finland, Germany and Latvia.