Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's Drake Batherson adjusting to unusual NHL season

Nova Scotia's Drake Batherson, 22, says it’s been a highly unusual NHL season so far. The start of the season was delayed and then divisions were realigned with all seven Canadian teams, including Batherson’s Ottawa Senators, moved into the North division.

COVID protocols and schedule adjustments among many changes facing NHL players this season

Ottawa Senators right wing Drake Batherson (19) gives Montreal Canadiens left wing Paul Byron (41) a facewash during first-period NHL action in Ottawa on Feb. 6, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

For 22-year-old Nova Scotian Drake Batherson it's been a highly unusual hockey season so far.

That shouldn't come as any surprise as the 2020-21 NHL season is unlike any other.

Due to COVID-19, the start of the season was delayed and then divisions were realigned, with all seven Canadian teams, including Batherson's Ottawa Senators, moved into the North division.

"When we're at home we are not allowed to go to any teammate's house, you just have to hang out by yourself all day," said Batherson, who plays right wing. "When we go on the road we are ordering food right to our rooms, but we usually have a players lounge with Ping-Pong tables and stuff to keep us busy."

Batherson during warm-up prior to an NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 16, 2021. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The youthful Senators have struggled to find their game so far.

They have only five wins in 20 games, but two of those wins have come against Toronto, currently the top team in the NHL standings. One of those wins against the Maple Leafs was a comeback by the Senators, who rallied to win 6-5 in overtime after trailing 5-1.

"That was a crazy game with a lot of ups and a lot of downs," said Batherson. "It was pretty special to be a part of that. I haven't been part of a comeback like that in a long time, it was great."

Batherson has family ties in Cape Breton and in the Annapolis Valley.

He was born in Indiana where his father Norm (originally from North Sydney and a former star at Acadia University) was a professional hockey player. The family then moved to Europe where Norm's pro career continued. They moved back to Nova Scotia when Drake was eight years old and that's when his hockey skills started to blossom.

The Ottawa Senators drafted Batherson when he played for the Cape Breton Eagles. (Mike Sullivan)

After spending one season with the Valley Wildcats of the Maritime Junior Hockey League, he then moved up to play with the Cape Breton Eagles. He got to play in front of many family members at Centre 200, including his great uncle, musician Matt Minglewood.

Batherson, who's younger sister Mae plays hockey at Syracuse University, capped off a successful junior career as a key member of Canada's gold medal winning team at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. Batherson scored a team-leading seven goals.

The last two seasons saw Batherson split his time between Ottawa and their AHL affiliate in Belleville. This season he has been in the Senators lineup for every game.

Batherson (19) celebrates his goal against Czech Republic goaltender Josef Korenar (30) during second-period semifinal IIHF World Junior Championship hockey action in Buffalo, N.Y. on Jan. 4, 2018. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The schedule is just one of many major adjustments teams and players have had to make this season due to COVID. Daily testing is one of the regular protocols for players.

"I've had one every single day since early December," said Batherson, who has four goals and 10 points this season. "It's every single day in the morning and we get our results early in the evening."

The 56-game condensed schedule also means less practice time for teams and many back-to-back games. The Senators had a two-week-long road trip where they played some of their worst hockey of the season. But now the team, including Batherson, is playing much better.

Heading into Tuesday night's game against Montreal, Batherson has scored goals in three of the Senators' last four games.