Kings County resident and former Axeman Norm Batherson as a member of the Straubing Tigers pro hockey team in Germany. The North Sydney native will be inducted into the Cape Breton Sport Hall of Fame May 17 in the athlete category.
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Norm Batherson’s time in the American Hockey League showed he could play at a higher level, and he was only a phone call away from making his NHL debut.
However, what the hockey gods giveth, they also taketh away. A serious ankle injury early in his second season with the Portland Pirates, as well as management changes with the NHL club in Washington, kept the then 25-year-old forward from North Sydney from making the jump to the show.
“When I got sent down, it was eight games in and I busted my ankle. I broke it pretty bad, so I had a plate put in and was out for three months,” he said. “All these guys were getting called up and I was like ‘geez, there was my chance.’”
The Kings County resident said there are plenty of what ifs when he looks back at being so close to getting his shot with the Capitals. But that doesn’t take away from an accomplished hockey career that included a pro championship overseas and a national university title.
Those exploits are being recognized with induction into the Cape Breton Sport Hall of Fame on Saturday.
“It would have been nice to get a few games up just to see what would have happened, but that’s just the way the game is. That’s hockey,” he said. “Some guys get the chances and stay up forever.
“But I was happy with my career because every game out I was giving my all and that’s all you can do. A lot of things were out of your hands.”
After midget hockey, Batherson played a season under Danny Berry with the Antigonish Bulldogs junior A team. He caught the eye of Belleville Bulls head coach Danny Flynn and the late Donnie Matheson from Glace Bay, a scout at the time for the Bulls. After a season in Belleville, Batherson was picked up on waivers by the Medicine Hat Tigers and played in the Western Hockey League for the 1989-90 season.
Batherson took the university route from there, skating for the Acadia Axemen from 1990-94. He earned a national silver medal in 1992, but played on the Axemen’s first Canadian championship team in 1993.
He’s a member of Acadia’s hall of fame both as a player and a member of both the 1992 and 1993 medal-winning Axemen teams.
“Having won in 1993 was nice,” he said. “I think we won the final 12-1. We had a powerhouse team. It was fun.”
Batherson made the jump to pro hockey in 1993-94 with the AHL’s P.E.I. Senators. He was offered a contract with the Pirates the next season, and played four more seasons in Portland. He wrapped up his North American hockey career in the now defunct International Hockey League with the Fort Wayne Komets in 1997-98.
“They wanted me to play in the minors and help the young guys out,” said Batherson. “I knew my chances of getting called up at that point were fading away. I ended up talking to a few contacts in Europe and ended up going over there.”
He’d spend the next eight years playing pro hockey in Germany, suiting up with the Revier Lions, Hamburg Crocodiles, Riessersee SC, and finally, with the Straubing Tigers.
Batherson can say he went out a champion. The Tigers captured a league championship in 2006, and he retired as the league’s all-time leading scorer. At the age of 37, he put up one of his most productive pro seasons, leading the league with 37 goals and wracking up 72 points.
“I enjoyed the hockey over there,” he said. “The fans over there were great and they really loved the game. To watch a game over there and watch a game over here is totally different. It’s like a soccer game over there.”
University hockey would come calling again for Batherson once he moved back home. He joined one of his former teammates overseas, Brad Peddle, behind the bench of the St. Francis Xavier X-Men. He served as an assistant coach from 2008-11.
Batherson’s two kids are following in their dad’s footsteps. His son, 16-year-old Drake, split this season between the Ontario Hockey Academy in Cornwall, and the Valley Wildcats of the Nova Scotia EastLink Major Midget Hockey League. His 13-year-old daughter Mae won a provincial title with King’s-Edgehill School this past season.
“They both love it and have a passion for it, so it’s fun to watch,” he said. “They were always around the rink when they were small.”