It is not often that an athlete who played in only six games throughout three years in a third-string position at a Division III school gets a shot at playing professional sports.
However, that is exactly what happened to Batavia High School graduate Mike Battaglia, who suddenly found himself back on the ice and in between the pipes, though in the most unexpected of ways.
The former Ice Devils goaltender, who excelled on the Niagara University club hockey team as a freshman and transferred to SUNY Geneseo the following year, was interning with the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets when he got the call.
“I told him not to be nervous,” said Battaglia’s high school coach Paul Pedersen. “I told him so what if he gives up a couple of goals, who cares? He just got the chance to play professional hockey.”
In early October, Battaglia’s boss with the Blue Jackets got word that the Cincinnati Cyclones of the East Coast Hockey League — two steps below the NHL — were in need of backup goaltenders, as both the NHL and AHL were in the process of making cuts. He recommended Battaglia, a film scout for Columbus, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Normally, guys like me don’t get this chance,” said Battaglia, in a recent phone interview. “It was a shock at first.”
As goalies had not yet been filtered down to the Cyclones, Battaglia received the chance to suit up again in a classic case of being in the right place at the right time. With Cincinnati being only an hour’s drive from Columbus, he found himself playing through training camp and being the emergency netminder for the Cyclones.
“I was very happy for him,” said Pedersen. “And it says a lot about him as a person and his work ethic. It’s a great opportunity for him.”
And he took every advantage of the opportunity, as exhausting as it sometimes was.
“It was definitely tiring at some times, but the experience was well worth it,” he said.
Each day he would perform double-duty, working for both the Blue Jackets and driving to and from Cincinnati to practice with the Cyclones. And though he never saw ice time in a game, Battaglia came close a couple of times and was able to see, first hand, what professional hockey is all about.
During the beginning of training camp, many of the team’s regulars were still training to make the cut at either the AHL level with the San Antonio Rampage or the Milwaukee Admirals or with the Cyclone’s NHL affiliates, the Florida Panthers and the Nashville Predators. When those players were sent down, that is when Battaglia began to feel a bit intimidated.
“These guys were all huge and some are probably going to be in the NHL some day,” he said. “They are no longer firing shots into your chest, they are either going over your shoulder or hitting the pipes.”
As a freshman for the Purple Eagles, Battaglia was a standout in the American Collegiate Hockey Association and was named the starting goaltender for the All-Rookie Team when he posted an impressive 2.64 goals-against-average and five shutouts in 24 games. For his efforts, he was also named the Eastern Collegiate Hockey League’s Most Valuable Player.
A year later it was on to Geneseo, where he appeared in only six games and recorded a 2-0 record with a 2.06 GAA. However, that is not what he will remember.
“Right away, everything just happened so fast that I don’t think he had the time to think about it,” said Pedersen. “When he did, it was kind of, a shock.”
Battaglia actually opened some eyes.
“The best compliment I had was from Andrew Cassels, the assistant coach (for Cincinnati),” said Battaglia. “He said that I had really improved over the time there and that he thought I could actually play in that league.”
And while the inevitable cut from Cincinnati did eventually come, the opportunity to be back on the ice is still in the cards for future emergency situations. And though he is working toward becoming a full-fledged scout for the Blue Jackets, Battaglia said that he would welcome the chance to be on the ice again.
“You never know,” he said. “But if I got the chance again, I would take it.”
And after making such an impression, that chance could come at any moment.