Brandon Warner raced out of the tunnel and down the ice, cheers raining from the stands, and he couldn’t keep his eyes from wandering up to his former address at Section 223.
He had been at Memorial Coliseum many times before but never like this. He’d always been the one cheering, not the one being lauded.
“When they announced my name and I came out of those doors, it was something else,” Warner said. “I just had tingles all up my body.”
Back in 2002, when he had been interviewed as a youngster entering the world of junior hockey, he was asked if he thought he could make it to the pro ranks. The answer: “That’s pretty much the dream.”
Consider it realized.
Warner is a member of the Fort Wayne Komets, living a longtime vision of playing for his hometown team. Only Colin Chin has been able to transition from fan to star with the Komets, captaining them to a championship in 1993.
At that time, Warner was taking mental notes on how defenseman Guy Dupuis played the game, what coach Al Sims had his players do in all sorts of situations. Now Warner, 24, is playing for Sims, alongside Dupuis. Another current Komets player, Konstantin Shafranov, was also a Warner favorite as a kid.
“It is kind of weird. Well, it’s cool more than weird, because those are the guys I grew up idolizing,” Warner said. “Now I play with them and they’re the same way; it’s like they haven’t lost a beat. It’s just something special. And with Al being here, it’s like a time machine took me back here.”
He’s living at home with his parents, Rick and Laurie, while saving money for his upcoming wedding, and Brandon Warner has found a comfort level he has missed over recent years. Still in his room is the No. 9 sign honoring former Komets forward Bob Lakso he used to tote to games, and he wears that number himself now.
“I think that some people might not come to play here because they don’t think there’s a lot to do,” Warner said. “But for me, it’s the hometown. Growing up here all my life, I’ve been away for six years, and I’ve been playing in other places where I don’t have family or loyal fans, so coming back is a dream come true.”
He has carved a niche with the Komets through his talent and his versatility. As a youngster, he played almost every position, including goaltender, and his skills blossomed with the Bantam AA Travel Komets.
In 2001, he was picked up by the Pittsburgh Forge of the North American Hockey League – former NHL coach Kevin Constantine discovered the Carroll graduate – and as a defenseman, Warner helped them to a Junior A national championship in 2003. That propelled him to a spot on the Michigan State team, with whom he played four years, the last two as a forward. He had two goals and six points in 23 games last season, when the Spartans won the national championship.
“He’s shown he can play up front and on defense and guys like that are fairly valuable,” said Sims, who has used Warner primarily on the blue line. “His skating is the best part of his game.”
At 6 feet, 170 pounds, Warner said he needs to get stronger to become a successful pro. He has one assist in seven games for the 4-3-1 Komets. Having tasted his dream, he wants to prolong it, and maybe some kid out in the stands will want to emulate him.
“We’re very proud and excited. This is something he’s always dreamed of doing,” Rick Warner said. “Ever since he was little, he wanted to go to Michigan State, which he was able to accomplish. And he wanted to play professional hockey and play for the Komets, and he’s doing it. He wants to move up, too, but he’s realized his dreams.”