By Brandon M. Bickerstaff
The Sun Herald
BILOXI, Miss. – With the NHL season now officially dead, many of the league’s players are scrambling for ways to play competitive hockey. For Washington Capitals veteran forward Jon “Bates” Battaglia, staying active on the ice just became a family affair.
Battaglia joined his younger brother Anthony with the ECHL’s Mississippi Sea Wolves on Monday, marking the first time the two have played professional hockey on the same team and the first time in the team’s nine-year history that two brothers have suited up during the same season.
Battaglia also became the third player on the Sea Wolves’ current roster with NHL experience, joining goaltenders Phil Sauve and Matt Underhill. Sauve played in 17 games with the Colorado Avalanche and Underhill saw one game with the Chicago Blackhawks last season.
Battaglia said his brother had a lot to do with landing him in Mississippi. Several NHL players have signed with teams in the minor leagues in an effort to stay in game shape. As of Wednesday, Battaglia was the ninth player to spend significant time in the NHL during the 2003-04 season and join an ECHL team this year.
“Anthony was a big factor,” Bates Battaglia said, adding, “I knew I needed to get on the ice and I wanted to play some competitive hockey. Hopefully I can help the team out during this last stretch and getting into the playoffs.”
Anthony Battaglia, who plays with Bates during the summer in pick-up games, was equally amped to have his elder sibling on the same roster.
“It’s really exciting,” he said. “I’ve never played with him professionally, so it’s going to be real fun having him around.”
Bates Battaglia said he had considered signing with Mississippi when negotiations between the NHL’s players union and league owners first began to sour. When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced his decision to cancel the 2004-05 season on Feb. 16, Bates Battaglia said his decision became a lot easier. After that, it became a matter of Sea Wolves coach and general manager Bob Woods finding a place for him on the roster.
“I had mentioned (joining the Sea Wolves) to Anthony earlier, but I wanted to wait and see” how the NHL situation would turn out, Bates Battaglia said. “Also, I didn’t want to mess up anything they already had going. I wanted to make sure it was cool with Woody.”
According to Woods, having a left wing with 485 games of NHL experience is beyond cool with him, even if it will take time for him to get back into game shape. Bates Battaglia didn’t disappoint in his ECHL debut, tallying the Sea Wolves’ first goal of the night in a 6-5 shootout victory against Columbia Tuesday night at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum, just hours after his arrival in Mississippi.
“The young guys can learn a lot from him,” Woods said. “I was impressed a lot with him just coming into this situation. An NHL guy or not, it’s tough to come into that and play like that when you haven’t played all year.
“I think it will be a big lift for Anthony, as well,” Woods said. “I’m sure they’re going to have a lot of fun with it.”
With the Sea Wolves’ leading goal scorer Jeff Hutchins still on call in the American Hockey League and the team riding a three-game losing streak before Tuesday, the Sea Wolves knew they needed to make a change quickly. In Bates Battaglia, they are hoping to find the spark that could turn their season around and give them enough momentum to burst back into the playoff picture.
Bates Battaglia just wants to help in any way he can.
“I hope to bring power on the offensive and defensive ends,” he said. “I’m not a one-way player. I’m going to try to put the puck in the net and handle the offense with the boys.” He quipped, “Hopefully I’m not too much of a bad influence.”
“He fits right in,” Anthony Battaglia said. “He goes into the corners and fights hard, which is what our team is all about; dumping the puck, getting in and getting our noses dirty.”