KENTVILLE, N.S. – New Minas native Drake Batherson will have his shot at the big league Nov. 15 as he joins the Ottawa Senators – on the team’s starting lineup, no less.
The young hockey star and Valley Wildcats alum is a success story many can identify with, having found his stride in hockey later than most.
Yet he’s a player who has peaked just in time – he’ll join the Senators’ starting lineup as the team gets set to take on the Detroit Red Wings – and who is ready to make his mark.
“I think in any new league you’re going to be a little nervous your first couple of shifts. But the older guys here have done a good job in telling me, ‘just play my game.’ I think that’s the most important… not to change how you play,” said Batherson, in an interview with Sens TV.
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‘A knack for the net’: Greenough
Batherson has seen much success in recent months, making his calling to the Senators’ main roster one some fans may have been expected.
He scored 20 points in 14 games as part of the Belleville Senators, the team’s American Hockey League feeder team, and is perhaps best known for the seven goals he scored during last year’s IIHF World Junior Championship tournament in Buffalo, making him the team’s highest-scoring player and helping propel the team to its gold-medal finish.
Locally, Batherson is known as a former top Wildcats player who enjoyed a successful career with the team and saw steady growth.
Among those not surprised by his latest success is former Wildcats coach and current general manager Nick Greenough, who says he always knew Batherson would make it big.
“We saw that he has a great talent, and that he would succeed. I’m sure he’s a little nervous about hitting the ice with the Senators, but everybody will be watching. He’s going to do well,” he said.
“He’s got a knack for the net, for scoring goals. It’s amazing to see his growth, in terms of where he was and where he is now.”
Support from family, former teammates
Batherson’s father, Norm, also played for the AHL and was signed by the Ottawa Senators. He was also a member of the Acadia Axemen hockey team, and helped carry the team to a national championship.
Batherson said he received some good advice from his dad ahead of his game – to have fun with it.
“He’s seen me every day, training and working hard for this moment, so he’s going to be proud of me. …It’s the game I love, and it’s going to be special for sure,” said Batherson in the Sens TV interview.
The young star also said his phone has been “blowing up” with people sending their well-wishes.
Batherson will hit the ice in front of 15 of his closest family members and friends who will be in the Ottawa stands. Among them will be John Deacon, a former Wildcats teammate, who said he’s “very happy” for Batherson, who he said is “one of the most humble people I know.”
“He’s been working hard for this opportunity and I’m sure he will be great tonight. …He’s such a talented smart hockey player but the biggest thing I remember from him is how much he loves the game,” says Deacon.
“He’s the kind of player that’s the first one on the ice and last one off.”
The Ottawa Senators have confirmed Batherson will play right wing on the team’s starting line alongside centre Matt Duchene, one of the team’s top players. In an interview ahead of the game, Batherson said he feels playing on the line is a “privilege.”
“I’m playing with two great players tonight, so it should be fun,” he said.
Batherson’s journey is an inspirational one that continues to captivate Canadians across the country, and one that should serve to inspire young hockey players the most, said Greenough – young players who may look at Batherson as an idol the same way he looked at fellow Nova Scotian and childhood idol Sidney Crosby when he was growing up. He'll have the opportunity to play Crosby's team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, on Nov. 17.
“It shows kids who play locally here that if you work hard and follow your dreams, that great things will happen,” said Greenough.
What Wildcats alums are saying ahead of Batherson’s big game
Ryan Huestis: I got the chance to play against Drake when I was in my final year of midget and you could always tell by the amount of skill he had there was definitely something special to come in the future.
I also was very lucky to not only play with him for the Valley junior A Wildcats but to sit beside him in the dressing room.
There are so many great memories I got to share with Drake on and off the ice. From picking him up after he got out of school or coming back to my billet's to play Xbox.
I couldn’t be happier for Drake, his hard work and dedication to the game of hockey over the past couple years has been phenomenal.
I’m really looking forward to watching him play his first National Hockey League game against Detroit and watching him grow as a player!
John Deacon: I’m really happy for Drake. He’s an unbelievable hockey player and an even better person.
He’s been working hard for this opportunity and I’m sure he will be great tonight.
Drake was a great guy to play with on and off the ice. He’s such a talented [and] smart hockey player, but the biggest thing I remember from him is how much he loves the game.
He’s the kind of player that’s the first one on the ice and last one off. I lived close to him so we drove to practices and games together and he’s just a good guy to be around.
He’s always nice, he’s funny, and he’s one of the most humble people I know.
Lukas Kane: I’m really excited to watch and see how [Drake] adapts to the big league tonight!
He always finds a way to get the job done no matter where he plays. And playing with Drake back when he was a Valley Wildcat was a lot of fun!
He always enjoyed the game and loved every minute of it! He’s definitely one of the smartest players I ever played with!
He made the game so easy, just getting the puck to you when you’d least expect it and he’[d] make it look effortless too.