He may not have been on everyone's radar at the start of the season, but Drake Batherson is the only Maritime player invited to the final tryout for Canada's world junior hockey team.
"When I found out I just kind of laughed to myself, really,” says Batherson. “I really couldn't believe it."
The 19-year-old from New Minas, N.S., really would have laughed at the idea a few years ago. Standing shorter than five-foot-five, he wasn’t even picked his first time eligible for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft. He was taken by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles a year later, but didn't make the team.
Now at six-foot-two, there's a very real possibility the Ottawa Senators' draft pick will wear the Maple Leaf in the wildly popular holiday tournament.
"It's been a family tradition the last seven or eight years to watch the game on Boxing Day,” says Batherson. “To have the opportunity to maybe be a part of that is really special."
Batherson's father, a longtime pro hockey player himself, says he always knew his son had what it takes.
"The big obstacle he had all along was his size,” Norm Batherson says. “I always knew he had the skill level to be there. He's improving every day. Every time I look at him he's doing something different."
Last year’s Team Canada had tons of QMJHL players, including Saint John Sea Dog and tournament MVP Thomas Chabot, fellow Sea Dog Mathieu Joseph and Cape Breton's Pierre-Luc Dubois. This year, Drake Batherson is one of just three Quebec leaguers invited.
Batherson is not a guarantee to make Team Canada, but TSN’s Bob MacKenzie has the young Screaming Eagle penciled in to his projected Canadian lineup.
Cape Breton Screaming Eagles head coach Marc-Andre Dumont says this is a prime example of perseverance.
"I'm not surprised at all," he says. "It's hard work being rewarded. It's not falling from the sky. He worked and earned it, and it's great to see that."
Drake Batherson says he’ll do whatever it takes to represent his country in Buffalo.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Ryan MacDonald.