By Michael Smith
Bates Battaglia spent nine seasons in the National Hockey League racing for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
On Sunday, Battaglia will begin a different race, one that’s rather amazing.
Bates, 37, and his brother Anthony will be one of 11 teams participating in CBS’s 22nd season of “The Amazing Race,” which premieres Sunday, Feb. 17 at 8 p.m.
The two – hockey and the Race – Bates said, are pretty similar in nature.
“You travel one day to play the Rangers, and the next day you’re out in LA playing the Kings,” he said. “You see on the show all the time, flying hours and hours. Flights on that Race are a lot longer than any NHL team has to fly, so you have to deal with the flying and playing every day. They’re very similar.”
But which was more difficult?
“Hockey is pretty taxing on the body when you’re playing every other day, and the Race is pretty taxing, too, so it’s quite a tossup, I guess,” he said.
Of his nine seasons in the NHL, Battaglia spent the better part of six of them with the Hurricanes from 1997-2003. In 402 games with Carolina, Battaglia recorded 150 points (63g, 87a).
His most productive NHL season was 2001-02, when he posted 21 goals and 25 assists (46 points) in 82 regular-season games. One of the B’s in what came to be known as the BBC line alongside Rod Brind’Amour and Erik Cole, Battaglia tallied 14 points (5g, 8a) in Carolina’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002. In the Eastern Conference Semifinals series against Montreal, the speedy, gritty and tenacious BBC line accounted for 11 of the team’s 21 goals, cementing Battaglia’s name in Hurricanes lore.
In the following five years, from 2003-2008, Battaglia’s NHL career took him to Colorado, Washington and Toronto. He played in the ECHL during the 2004-05 work stoppage and recorded 67 points (20g, 47a) with the Toronto Marlies (AHL) in 2005-06. After last playing in the NHL for the Maple Leafs in 2008, Battaglia has bounced around in the AHL, Finland, Germany and, most recently, Sweden.
With another work stoppage in the NHL in the fall of 2012, Battaglia knew his hopes of playing overseas might be dashed with the influx of NHL talent, but he still wanted to compete in something. So, he turned to the Race, a reality show that he and his brother would watch whenever the hockey season would allow.
“When I did ask Anthony, he was like, ‘Absolutely. Let’s do this,’” Bates recalled. “We were both really excited about it. Any time you have a chance to fly around the world, who wouldn’t want to take that?”
In preparation during the months leading up to filming, Bates and Anthony drew from their experience of watching hours upon hours of game film and watched reruns of “The Amazing Race” online.
“Watching [past] episodes, you see people have trouble with the language barrier and getting on flights, stuff like that,” Bates said. “I think the two things I was most worried about were running into a taxi driver who didn’t know where he was going and couldn’t understand you and missing flights or getting on the wrong flights.”
What the brothers Battaglia weren’t worried about were the physical challenges a frantic race around the world would present. Bates played 580 regular-season games and 42 playoff games in the NHL, plus time in the AHL and in Europe. Anthony has logged over 600 professional hockey games and currently plays for the Huntsville Havoc in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
“We’re obviously in good shape being athletes. We weren’t worried about the physical aspects. It was the other side (mental) of it that was intimidating,” Bates said. “You have to be mentally strong. Your body gets run down, and you have to be able to play through it and stay level-headed.”
Bates and Anthony also knew they had an advantage in being brothers. Like Eric and Jordan Staal, they know each other’s tendencies, which streamlines decision-making and strategizing.
“We’re pretty close. We played together a few times here and there,” Bates said. “We live together in the offseason, so we’re always together, training together, skating together. So we’re basically the same person. Anything that comes up, we’re pretty much going to attack it the same way.”
As in any other reality show, there is an element of strategy for the Race. The brothers didn’t want to put on a facade for the camera, though, so their approach didn’t differ much from life off-screen.
“Going into it, our big plan was just to be good guys. We didn’t want to be the guys that come in and pretend like we were someone else and then get caught lying or something like that,” Bates said. “We just wanted to be the honest guys that are going to help other teams out, and hopefully they help us out. I feel like that’s how we are in real life, so we just wanted to be ourselves.”
Even still, no amount of preparation could have prepared the Battaglias for what they faced. It was, after all, “The Amazing Race.”
“You can’t believe everything you see on TV. You watch it and you think it’s so easy,” Bates said, laughing. “And then you get on it, and it’s tough, I’m telling you. You get pushed to your limit, and you learn something about yourself in that you see how much you’ve got in you to keep going.”
The brothers’ journey begins Sunday, and Lucky B’s, Bates’ downtown Raleigh bar he opened with a friend in May 2005, will be host to a watch party for the premiere.