Editor’s Note: It’s “Underdog” week at SB Nation, and, here at Canes Country, we’re going to be taking a look back at some of the more memorable underdog players in the team’s history. The Hurricanes have had a number of players who exceeded expectations as a low draft pick, undrafted player, bargain free agent or seemingly minor trade to carve out a role and become a fan favorite. Today we look at a player who has continued to have a big presence in the community.
Jonathan “Bates” Battaglia was never a big name player. The 6-foot-2 left winger from Chicago registered 150 points in 402 games played with the Carolina Hurricanes and broke the 30-point mark only twice in his time in Carolina. But for one season, Battaglia was a bonafide hero in Raleigh.
Drafted 132nd overall in the sixth round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft by the Anaheim Ducks, Battaglia went on to play college hockey for the Lake Superior State University Lakers from 1994-1997 before he was traded to the Hartford Whalers in 1997.
He first laced up his skates on NHL ice, however, after the Whalers’ relocation to Carolina where he would carve out a role for the next six seasons as a physical winger.
What Battaglia is most commonly remembered in Carolina for, though, was his place on the dynamic BBC line. Playing alongside Rod Brind’Amour and Erik Cole for the 2001-02 season, the BBC line was one of Carolina’s most potent weapons.
Battaglia put up a career high in goals (21), assists (25) and points (46) during the regular season, but it was his playoff performance that year that helped enshrine him in the memories of fans.
Battaglia was a key factor in the Hurricanes’ first Stanley Cup Final appearance, leading the way through the first two series against the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens. Battaglia led the team in points through those first two series, including scoring the Game Two overtime winner in round one against the Devils.
Battaglia finished second in playoff points (14) on the team that year, only two behind Hall-of-Famer Ron Francis (16).
In 2003, Battaglia was dealt at the trade deadline to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for 21-year old Czech winger Radim Vrbata. Battaglia wasn’t in Colorado long before being dealt to the Washington Capitals at the start of the following season. After the 2004-05 Lockout, Battaglia signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Marlies and the following season signed with their parent club, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Battaglia would spend the next few years bouncing between North American and European leagues before he hung up his skates in 2012.
Despite spending the majority of his career away from North Carolina, Battaglia always kept a home in Raleigh.
In fact, in 2005, Battaglia opened up a bar, Lucky B’s, in downtown Raleigh. Labeled the classiest dive bar in Raleigh on its website, Lucky B’s stuck around and remained a staple of Battaglia’s heart even when his playing career moved him across states, countries and even oceans.
Off the ice, Battaglia showed another niche for competition, surprisingly again in a public eye. Bates and his brother, Anthony who also played hockey in North America, took part in the 22nd season of the Amazing Race which aired in 2013.
The Battaglias dominated the game show, taking first in five of the 12 total legs of the race, including the final one and won along the way a trip to London, Phuket, Bora Bora, $7,500 each and the final grand prize of $1,000,000.
Battaglia remained a large part of the community, continuing to work closely with the Canes. He has participated in seven of the nine Alumni Games that the Hurricanes have hosted since 2012 and, according to his LinkedIn, he has been a corporate sales consultant for the team since 2014. Battaglia takes part in many of the Hurricanes’ charity events and is a defiant face against a much more negative side of his family name.
Battaglia talked on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast about how his grandfather, Sam Battaglia, was a former mob boss who was suspected to be connected to seven different homicides in the 50s and 60s. He was also believed at one time to be the apparent successor to Sam Giancana, head of the Chicago Outfit. He died two years before Bates was born.
While his grandfather was a face to fear, Bates Battaglia was a charismatic guy and a player very easy to like. While he wasn’t around long, the impact Battaglia managed to have is evident by the massive footprint he has left on the community. From his bar, to the maintained presence he’s kept as an alumni and all supplemented by the fond memories of 2002, Battaglia remains as a favorite of long-time fans and is proof that unlikely guys can have major impacts on a team and a community.