CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – A former P.E.I. Senator will be in the stands this week as the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) semifinal swings to Charlottetown.
Norm Batherson will be cheering on his son, Drake, and his Blainville-Boisbriand Armada teammates, who lead the Charlottetown Islanders 2-0 in the best-of-seven series. Games 3 and 4 are Tuesday and Wednesday at the Eastlink Centre beginning at 7 p.m.
Batherson, a North Sydney, N.S., native who calls New Minas, N.S., home now, played for the Senators during their first year of operation in 1993-94 after three seasons at Acadia University.
“It’s always interesting when I (get to) go back there,” Batherson said of the Eastlink Centre. “It brings back a lot of memories.”
Batherson left Cape Breton to play major junior hockey and had a number of Maritime universities after him when his junior career ended.
“I played major junior, but I really developed in Canadian college,” he said Friday, admitting to being a “late bloomer.”
“I stepped (through) the doors at Acadia and they had a brand-new arena,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Dad, I’m going here’.”
In Norm’s second season at Acadia (1991-92), the Axemen defeated a UPEI Panthers squad with the likes of Jamie Blanchard and K.J. White wearing the green and white for the Atlantic title.
“Whenever we went to P.E.I., it was always tough to win there. Geez, was it hard to win.”
The next year, the powerhouse Axemen repeated as conference champs and won the national title.
Norm had led the country in scoring during the season and had received a call from John Ferguson in Ottawa inviting him for a tryout the next season with its AHL affiliate in Prince Edward Island. Batherson was only in his third year at Acadia, but knew he had to take advantage of the opportunity as he chased his pro dreams.
It started as a 25-game audition before the Sens signed him for the rest of the season.
“There was a lot of pressure there because I left school and didn't have a guaranteed contract,” Norm recalled. “Every game you had to perform.”
On the Island
The centre played with right-winger Claude Savoie and they had a few left-wingers complete the trio during the season.
“I loved the game,” Norm said. “When I got to the rink I was fired up. It was my passion to play.”
One of Norm’s memories from the season didn’t come in a rink, but rather waiting to cross the Northumberland Strait. On Boxing Day, the team was coming back from an afternoon matinee in Moncton, but got stuck on the ferry in Cape Tormentine, N.B., as the Confederation Bridge hadn’t been built.
“We couldn’t get back. . . We were on the boat for over 24 hours. . . (We had) a lot of fish and chips,” he laughed.
He rhymes of the names of players like Pavol Demitra, Radek Hamr, Graeme Townshend, Kent Paynter, Andrew McBain, Darcy Simon, Darren Rumble and Mark Laforest as well as coaches Don MacAdam and Mike Kelly as he thinks back to his first pro season.
“I really enjoyed P.E.I. We had a tough season that year – we didn't make the playoffs, but it was a good learning experience for me.”
Batherson had 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points in 67 games with the Senators.
Continuing pro career
The next year he received a tryout with Portland’s AHL team, playing for current Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz.
Batherson had 27 goals and 61 points in 77 games that season for the Pirates and was on the verge of an NHL call-up, but the opportunity never came. He played three more seasons in Portland before ending his North American career with the IHL’s Fort Wayne Komets, a team coached by John Torchetti with Summerside’s Grant Sonier as an assistant.
It was there in Indiana where Drake was born.
Sonier remembered Norm as a hard-working, character forward with a desire to win. He also remembered waiting for him on the bus one day when his roommate Ian Boyce came down and said Batherson, a diabetic, wasn't feeling well.
“We got some oranges into him and eventually he regulated his blood sugar,” Sonier said. “He ended up playing. He was a great teammate and was a pro. He showed up, went to work, worked hard.”
Batherson ventured overseas the next season, playing a year in Germany’s top league followed by seven seasons in the second league.
With Batherson’s daughter, Mae, getting ready to start school the family decided to move back to Canada.
Initially, they went to Antigonish, N.S. His wife, Deeann (Savoury) Batherson, finished her teaching degree and Norm worked as an assistant with Brad Peddle on the X-Men’s hockey squad’s coaching staff.
It was during their time in Antigonish, Drake and his Bulldogs teammates won the atom division of the Spud hockey tournament in Charlottetown with Drake being named the MVP.
“At that time, in the Maritimes, he was one of the best players, but then everybody else grew and he didn't,” Norm explained.
The family settled back in New Minas in 2011 and Batherson, 49, now works for the Department of Justice at the Nova Scotia Youth Facility in Waterville.
Drake has had quite the year, that has included being drafted in the NHL and helping Canada win the world junior championship in Buffalo.
But he isn’t the only Batherson making a name for themself.
His sister, Mae, has played the past five years for King’s Edgehill, a private school in Windsor, N.S., and will play for Kingston in Ontario’s Provincial Women’s Hockey League in 2018-19. She has already committed to the Syracuse Orange university squad for 2019-20.
“She sees the game really well and has a ton of skill,” Norm said.