Wednesday, March 11, 2009

From Da Range to Down Under, Barnz follows the puck

Defenseman headed to Australia

Express Staff Writer

Stationed on the right side during a Suns power play Paul Baranzelli directs a pass to an open teammate during Friday’s 5-3 Suns victory over Vancouver (B.C., Canada) Moto Ice at Sun Valley Skating Center.

Native Minnesotan Paul Baranzelli came to Sun Valley to play hockey eight years ago. He was 21 and full of energy. Next week he'll be celebrating his 29th birthday but it won't be here—it will be in Australia.

He'll probably learn How to Speak Australian—beer. The crocodiles better watch out, and he might end up bungee jumping. "I'll learn the culture and live their lifestyle," said Baranzelli, a rare Suns player who has stayed fit with hockey and cross-country skiing.

Baranzelli will be leaving for San Francisco and then Sydney on Sunday, March 15 with his Australian-born girlfriend Katherine McLean, a Sun Valley Resort snowmaker for the past three years. "It should be a great adventure," said Baranzelli, from Virginia, Minn. in the middle of the Iron Range.

"I'm a little nervous and anxious," said Baranzelli on

Saturday night, just after finishing his 2008-09 Suns season by scoring a third-period goal in Sun Valley's 6-4 loss to Vancouver (B.C., Canada) Moto Ice at Sun Valley Skating Center.

He'll miss the final four Suns games, but the 6-0, 185-pounder from "Da Range" won't miss a beat in his hockey. He plans to skate in a little seven-team league with the Canberra Knights, the hockey season there running from mid-April through September 2009.

"We're supposed to arrive in Sydney next Tuesday morning, and then it's a whole another world from there. I'll do a little traveling, and I look forward to coming back here, maybe with a couple of new tricks. This whole community has been great to me," he said.

Baranzelli has worked at Paul Kenny's and for the last five summers at Ketchum's Atkinson Park. What he's mainly known for, though, is coming to Sun Valley with a crew of eight rookies in 2000 and outlasting them all—while putting a few zingers on net with his booming slapshots.

The cousin of Suns Hall of Famers John and Jim Finnegan, Baranzelli started his eight-year Suns career in a big way by scoring 20 goals in 30 games during a marvelous 28-2 Suns campaign in 2001-02. He's played just about every position except Zamboni, but has made his biggest impression as an offensive-minded blueliner.

Just this season, Baranzelli (103 goals, 81 assists for 184 points for 21st on the all-time list) became only the 10th Suns player to reach 100 career goals. Currently he is only six goals behind his cousin, John Finnegan (109), as the top Suns goal-scoring defensemen ever.

Parked to the right of Vancouver goalie Mike Bogdanovich, Baranzelli took a cross-ice pass from Suns center Billy Tryder and scored the final goal of Saturday' game, then slowly skated off the ice with Suns coach John "Cub" Burke from Duluth after the game.

For Baranzelli, it's never easy to leave the ice. He loves the game and the Suns fans. About the Vancouver series, Baranzelli said, "They were smart players. They knew the game. It was some of the best hockey we've played this year. We just came up a little short."

Always a threat on the power play, Baranzelli leaves the Suns as their top goal scorer, with nine in 14 games. His teammates saluted him with a rousing cheer as he walked into the locker room after Saturday's farewell.

Baranzelli also made a big play Friday night, feeding Blake Jenson with a terrific cross-ice pass for the power play goal that was the eventual game winner in a 5-3 triumph for goalie Tony Benson (32 saves). It was the third straight victory for the Suns (8-8-0). Baranzelli's shorthanded goal into an empty net finished the tally.

Vilnis Nikolaisons scored the first two goals for Sun Valley Friday night, while Ryan Enrico (3 assists) and Jamie Ellison (2 assists) were the playmakers in Saturday's loss.

Coming up, the Suns travel to McCall for a two-game set with the Mountaineers Friday and Saturday, March 13-14. Check today's Express Web site for a weekend game summary and updated Suns statistics.

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