NEW MINAS - As a child, Drake Batherson always dreamed of one day playing for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships.
Flashback of those dreams came full circle for the 19-year-old on Dec. 15, sitting in a hotel room with roommate Victor Mete, patiently waiting to find out if his hard work and dedication was enough to crack the national junior roster.
“If your phone rang it meant you were being cut,” said Batherson in a phone interview, Thursday. “It was a pretty stressful hour and a half, praying that my phone wouldn’t ring.”
Batherson’s phone never did ring that night.
“I ended up getting an email 10 minutes after – around 7:30 p.m. – to find out that I made the team, it was very overwhelming.”
The Ottawa Senators fourth-round draft pick was one of 22 players to earn a spot on this year’s edition of Team Canada for the 2018 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, Dec. 26-Jan. 5, in Buffalo, N.Y.
“I didn’t think it would come this early to represent my country at the world juniors, but obviously I worked really hard and I’m just thankful for the opportunity,” said Batherson.
“It’s a tournament I’ve been watching since Grade 3 or 4 and it’s been a family tradition and now to be able to be part of it and to have my whole family here watching me, it’s going to be awesome.”
Two years ago, Batherson never thought he would be in the position he’s in today suiting up for Canada.
It was just after the New Minas, N.S. native was selected in the sixth round by Cape Breton Screaming Eagles at the 2015 QMJHL Entry Draft and was one of the team’s last cuts that season.
Batherson returned to his hometown, playing for the Valley Wildcats of the Maritime Junior Hockey League, recording four goals and 19 points in 28 games.
“I guess hard work pays off,” said Batherson.
The next season, the 6-2, 188-pound forward made the Screaming Eagles out of training camp, appearing in 61 games in his rookie season, posting 22 goals and 58 points.
The success of his rookie season didn’t go unnoticed with the Ottawa Senators, who drafted Batherson No. 121 overall at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Batherson, who’s father Norm played professional hockey, continued his success into the 2017-18 season, earning a spot at the Senators main training camp in September. He was later returned to Cape Breton and signed an entry-level deal with the Sens in October.
His impact with the Screaming Eagles was prominent upon his return, playing in 24 games with the QMJHL club, scoring 17 goals and 39 points, at one time leading the league in points, prior to a hand injury in November which forced him to miss time.
Earlier this month, Batherson, who wasn’t asked to participate in the world junior summer camp, was invited to the Canadian national junior team main selection camp.
“I never really thought about it, I just tried to stay positive and whatever happened, happened,” said Batherson about the camp. “I was lucky enough to make the team and I’m just really excited.”
Once news of the roster broke, Batherson immediately called his parents to share the good news with them.
“I could tell by the excitement in their voice they were happy for me,” said Batherson. “All my buddy’s started texting me when they saw it on Twitter, so I was up late answering all the messages – it was a really cool day.”
The Canadian team continues to prepare for the upcoming international tournament. The team opened pre-tournament action on Wednesday, blanking the Czech Republic 9-0 in London, Ont.
In that contest, Batherson had a goal and an assist, which he believes is a confidence builder heading into the team’s Boxing Day game with Finland.
“We’re really coming along together as a team and all the guys are starting to get to know each a little more and it’s translating on the ice,” said Batherson. “We’re all great players and we can all move the puck well, so it’s not too hard to find chemistry when you’re playing with these great players.”
Although it’s been over a week since he was named to the club, Batherson said it’s only now sinking in that he’s really on the team.
“It kinda sunk in on Thursday playing in London in front of a sold out building – it was really loud – I think at that moment it really hit me that I was playing in the world juniors for Canada.”
“I think having the whole county behind you, there’s a little pressure – I think we all like that and it fires us up more – I can’t wait for Boxing Day.”
Batherson, who has family connections to Cape Breton, knows the entire island will be rooting for him.
“It’s quite the honour and I’m certainly proud,” said Batherson.
Following the Boxing Day game against Finland, Canada will also play Slovakia on Dec. 27, and the United States in an outdoor game on Dec. 29, before finishing the round robin against Denmark on Dec. 30.
The quarterfinals will be played on Jan. 2, followed by the semifinals on Jan. 4. The bronze and gold medal games are set for Jan. 5.
Batherson and his teammates have one goal in mind at the tournament – winning gold.
“It would be unbelievable to win gold with Canada,” said Batherson. “I would be speechless – I think if we keep going in the direction we’re going, we should be able to come home with that gold medal.”