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Catching Up With Drake Batherson: A Late Bloomer Worth the Wait

Here in the Ottawa Senators’ 30th anniversary season, it’s safe to say that very few players in history have stronger family roots in their club than right winger Drake Batherson

At 24, Batherson has already climbed to the top Senators branch on his family tree. Last season, the 6-foot-3, 204-pound winger was named to the NHL all-star game for the first time, posting a career-best 44 points in 46 games. He followed that up with a silver medal for Canada last May at the World Hockey Championships, placing second overall in scoring.

But long before Drake came along, his father, Norm, was a farm hand for one season in the Sens’ organization, playing primarily for their American Hockey League affiliate in Prince Edward Island. Then you have Batherson‘s uncle, Dennis Vial, a Senators’ enforcer for several years until 1998 – the year Drake was born. 

The family hockey tree also includes Drake’s sister, Mae. She’s in the middle of her senior year as alternate captain at Syracuse University and made Team Canada’s U22 team this year.

“My sister’s probably the best athlete in the family, honestly,” said Batherson.” She plays soccer. She shoots 80 in golf and plays D1 hockey. So, she’s got that title for sure.”

The very athletic Batherson kids enjoyed a unique childhood, spending their earliest days in Germany.

Photo by Sean Sisk

 

 

Drake was actually born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his dad was playing in the now defunct International Hockey League. The Komets were almost at the end of their season and when it was over, the family went home to Nova Scotia for a month. From there, it was off to Germany for the next eight years, as Norm’s pro hockey career carried them from Hamburg to Garmisch-Partenkirchen (where Mae was born) to Straubing.

The German language is definitely well represented in Ottawa. Josh Norris’s father, Dwayne, also had a long tour of pro hockey in Germany. So Norris and Batherson were both fully immersed in Germany’s language, culture and hockey. That certainly added an extra layer of comfort for elite German prospect Tim Stutzle, when he arrived in 2020.

As it happens, Batherson is also fluent in another language: hockey jargon. The Senators’ social media team clipped a microphone on Batherson for a morning practice in Calgary last season and the results were amusing, with Batherson flying around, directing cheerful, non-stop hockey patter at his teammates.

“That’s what you call puttin’ it right in the pocky.”

“He ain’t scared of a few extra biscuits on the sheet.”

“He’s makin’ the iron sing early.”

“The old lungs are barkin’ at me up here in the alti.”

“Boys are crispy today.”

As a very young prospect, Batherson was never seen as “crispy” (assuming “crispy” is complimentary). At the NHL Draft, Batherson was passed over completely in his first year of eligibility. It was the same story a couple of years earlier at the Quebec Junior draft. You can’t teach size, as they say, and Batherson simply didn’t have it at that stage. At 16, Batherson figures he was about 5-foot-6, weighing about 120 pounds.

But one growth spurt later – or maybe a growth torrent – and the junior and pro scouts began to sit up and take notice. Batherson grew into both his body and stardom in the Quebec League, and then for Team Canada at both the junior and senior levels.

Today, Batherson is now in his fifth season with the Ottawa Senators and not only hoping he can get to the playoffs soon, but hoping this is the year he can actually play a full NHL season. His first couple of years were split between Belleville and Ottawa. His third year was cut short, as it was for everyone, due to COVID. And half of his season last year was wiped out, thanks mostly to a cheap shot from former Buffalo goalie Aaron Dell last January. Batherson suffered a high ankle sprain, which sidelined him for two months of action and took away his chance to actually play in the all-star game.

Photo by Sean Sisk

Batherson was able to return near the end of last season and then led Canada in scoring at the World Hockey Championships in Finland back in May. At that stage, Batherson felt like the ankle had completely healed. He was wrong.

“When I came back last year at the end of the season, I thought the ankle was like a hundred percent,” said Batherson. “As it went on this past summer, it wasn’t really anywhere near a hundred percent. Obviously, it was good enough to play, but not to where it was before the injury. I had a great treatment guy back home, as well as my trainer, who’s dealt with guys with this injury before. So, honestly, I don’t even think twice about it now. In the summer, it kind of stiffened up here and there, but it’s felt really good since training camp. I feel that pop back in my skating stride for sure.”

Batherson parlayed that into an excellent start with 11 points in the first 8 games this season. But as it did for the team, that’s when the dark clouds of November rolled in. Batherson’s production tailed off, Norris and Artem Zub both got hurt near the end of October (which marked the beginning of the desperate line shuffling), and the Sens began to look completely out of sorts.

“You never want to get too high or too low,” said Batherson. “I felt like I had a good start, maybe got too high, or whatever it was. I kind of hit a dry slump there and wasn’t really playing my style for 10 or 12 games. As of late, I’m slowly trying to get back to how I was playing at the start. You can’t think about the past or the last five games. I have to think positive going into each night. I have to worry about what I do. You can’t really control anything else. I feel like if I keep doing it right, I’ll get rewarded offensively. And that will only help the team too.

Photo by Sean Sisk

Faces: That famous summer skate you have out east must really help your game. Was it the usual suspects again this past summer? 

Batherson: Yeah. Obviously, you’ve got Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon and Brad Marchand – the big dogs. Marchand didn’t come out last summer because he had double hip surgery. So he wasn’t out with us at all, but he’d pop into the rink here and there just to have a chat with the fellas.

And then we get some guys like Justin Barron in Montreal and his brother Morgan in Winnipeg. We probably have another six guys that are in the minors, working their way up. And some older vets like Logan Shaw, who was in our organization. He’s been in that group for years. So yeah, we get almost 20 guys that are playing pro now from Nova Scotia, in the Halifax area. It makes for some good skates and obviously having Nate, Sid and Brad, they push it pretty good and we just kind of follow their footsteps.

Every day they come to the rink, they just want to get better. And for me, the last five years, doing that every day in the summer has helped me so much.

So were you around for Nathan MacKinnon’s Day with the Stanley Cup last summer? 

Yeah, he actually had it for two days. So it was an amazing time. Obviously, Sid and Brad were there. They both already have Cups and then I’m kinda the only one without one. So it made me want one even more seeing him celebrate with it, with his family. It was an awesome day. And I was super pumped for him.

 

Thanks to the Senators’ social media team, we got to watch you play a round of golf right before this season started. And you can really hammer the ball. You must be close to a scratch golfer.

Yeah, I wound up playing a lot. When I was 16, I was super small. And I thought about actually quitting hockey and trying to take the golf road. There were a few guys from my hometown that were getting NCAA scholarships. And at my size at that time, I wasn’t getting drafted to junior or anything like that, so I figured the hockey was over. So I almost quit hockey and went golf full time. I worked at the golf course until I was 18, so I absolutely loved it. But, I just had that passion for hockey. I couldn’t give it up and it ended up working out okay [laughing].

That’s fair to say. You and your sister, Mae, both share a love of hockey and golf and you’re both obviously great at both. Are you guys close? Is there some friendly competition there?

Yeah, we talk a lot after our games. Let’s say I miss a good scoring chance, she’ll kinda be all over me, texting me after the game and kind of giving it to me. Sometimes our games are at the same time so my parents will have two screens going at the same time. It’s awesome. We’re really close. She went to Team Canada’s camp this year with Marie-Phllip Poulin and all of her idols. It was awesome. I tuned into one game and she was on the power play at the top and Poulin was on the flank. I thought that was pretty cool. That would be like me playing on a line with Crosby or something. She made Team Canada’s U22 team and played three games against the U.S. before all the girls came back to college.

Photo by Sean Sisk

You’re a homeowner for the first time, buying a house in Westboro. What made you choose Westboro?

I lived there for two years before I decided to buy a place. I like the small town feel. Everything’s kind of on that main road there. Whatever you need, it’s all on the same street. It’s got a few great restaurants too. Not too busy and it’s only about 15 minutes to the rink and 12 minutes to downtown. It’s kind of in the middle of everything. And pretty close to the airport too. So I thought it was a good choice to buy there.

How do you spend your free time, away from the rink?

I love watching a lot of hockey. Every night I’m kind of waiting until that first game comes on. Other than that, I play some XBox. It’s a good way to keep in contact with my friends back home. We all get on the headset and chat a little bit that way. When the weather’s good, I like playing golf with the boys here in Ottawa. Other than that, I take my dog on a walk and that’s pretty much it.

We’d love to hear about your dog.

Yeah, I got a french bulldog. His name’s Bobby and he just turned one. I got him last year when I got injured and they told me it was going to be eight weeks, so I figured it was the perfect time to get a dog. He’s awesome. He’s just this goofy little french bulldog and yeah, he’s my best bud.

Back to the video games. What’s the game of choice?

It’s always been Call of Duty for me and my buddies. I don’t know. It’s something we’ve always played since high school, really. Obviously, during COVID, we put in a lot of hours. We still try to get on a couple of nights a week and play.

What are your plans for the holidays this year?

My parents are coming up to Ottawa for the first time, from the 22nd to the 29th. Usually, I go back home, out east, because my grandparents and my mom’s sisters all live in the same subdivision area. We all get together on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It’ll be a little different with them all coming up to my house this year. It’ll be fun. No travel, I can just kind of relax. Usually, I’m traveling. I rush home for two days, then rush back and it doesn’t really feel like a vacation at all. It’s nice to kick the feet up on my own couch and hang out and enjoy the time with the family.

Ottawa fans are hoping the holiday rest will serve Batherson and the Senators well in 2023. A strong finish and a push for the playoffs would make for a fine new year’s resolution.

By Steve Warne

Photography by Sean Sisk

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