June 02, 2013

Amazing Racer - Bates Battaglia

Jon Battaglia - universally known as "Bates" - became a minor Hollywood celebrity in 2013 when and his brother Anthony won the CBS reality competition The Amazing Race and the million dollar prize that goes with it.

The Battaglia boys survived and thrived through many ups and downs in the race. Much like Bates did during his career in the National Hockey League.

The Battaglias grew up in Chicago, where their grandfather "Teets" was noted mobster back in his day. Bates and his brothers never met their grandfather, who died in 1973.

Bates grew up loving football but took to hockey largely because his older brother Sam played the game. He showed a lot of promise on the ice, and his career prospects quickly rose when Bates, in hi senior year of high school, moved to Toronto to play with the Tier II Caledon Canadians. A year later he earned an athletic scholarship to Lake Superior State University and was soon playing for the United States at the 1995 world junior tournament.

Anaheim drafted the emerging power forward in the 6th round (132nd overall) in 1994, though the Ducks traded him to Hartford in 1997. A few months later he made his NHL debut with the relocated Whalers in Carolina.

Battaglia was hardly a natural on the ice. His skating stride was described as sluggish, though he had excellence balance was hard to knock off of the puck. He was at his best when he kept his game simple. Crash the net looking to create scoring chances. Don't do anything too fancy with the puck. He had good size and was never afraid to impose it upon the opposition. He worked enthusiastically.

Battaglia was a versatile player, too. He could play all three forward positions, though generally he was left on the left wing. He could slide up and down the line-up, playing on any of the 4 lines when needed. As such, he became one of coach Paul Maurice's favorites.

The two enjoyed some good success in Carolina, too. By 2002 the Hurricanes made it to the Stanley Cup final. Battaglia was on the team's top line with Rod Brind'Amour and Erik Cole. Unfortunately the Hurricanes would eventually lose to the Detroit Red Wings.

Fast forward four years into the future, and Battaglia's hockey world was unpredictably different. He was sitting at his off-season home in Raleigh watching the Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup in 2006. It was a moment of mixed emotion for Bates.

“These guys were my ex-teammates, friends that won,” said Battaglia. “You're happy for them, but you're also a little jealous. In the back of your mind, you want to win that [Stanley Cup], too.”

Battaglia had left the Hurricanes back in 2003, traded to Colorado for Radim Vrbata. Somehow Battaglia went from top line status in the Stanley Cup final to splitting four seasons with the Hurricanes, Avalanche and Washington Capitals, scoring 10 goals in 153 games. He then found himself out of a NHL job entirely.

After spending the lost NHL-lockout season of 2004-05 in Europe, Battaglia tried returning to the NHL with Paul Maurice's Toronto Maple Leafs. After a season in the minor leagues, Battaglia joined the Leafs for the 2006-07 season.

Battaglia would finish his career bouncing around the minor leagues and heading over seas. In total he played 580 games and scored 80 goals, 118 assists and 198 points. In 42 playoff games he added 5 goals and 21 points.

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