In a city with no shortage of sports siblings — from the Courtnalls and Benns in hockey to the Gaits in lacrosse —the Batters brothers suffered a more tragic history when Jeff was killed in a 1996 automobile accident.
Greg Batters fondly remembered his younger brother as a “kid who would always tag along with my friends when we went out to play road hockey.”
On Monday afternoon at the UVic Ian Stewart Complex rink, Greg proudly presented the trophy named after his brother to the Burnaby Bulldogs as 2013 Jeff Batters Memorial Trophy winners following their 4-0 victory over the Coquitlam Chiefs in the final of the Greater Victoria Midget Hockey Classic.
While forward Greg Batters starred with the hometown Victoria Cougars in the Western Hockey League, being drafted in 1987 by the Los Angeles Kings before playing three seasons of pro in the ECHL, defenceman Jeff Batters went the NCAA route with the University of Alaska-Anchorage and was selected by the St. Louis Blues in 1989. Before that, Jeff Batters was roommates with future NHLer Rod Brind’Amour of Campbell River at Notre Dame as the two Islanders led that Saskatchewan institution to the 1987 Air Canada (now Telus) Cup national Midget title.
Jeff played three seasons in the minor pros with the IHL’s Peoria Rivermen, with 16 games up with the Blues. After a season with the Kansas City Blades of the IHL, he was signed by San Jose and Greg believes his brother was on the brink with the Sharks before the fatal accident in the summer of 1996 at age 25 while instructing at a hockey camp in Canmore, Alta.
“He was big and smart and I believe for sure was headed to being an NHL regular,” said Greg Batters.
“But Jeff was always a house league player [at Victoria Minor Hockey in the old Memorial Arena and later the Racquet Club]. He grew up late.”
That makes having a midget tournament held in his brother’s name entirely appropriate, said Greg, since many players don’t bloom until they get to midget.
“Midget is the forgotten division in hockey,” said Greg Batters, former assistant coach of the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL and past president of the Island Junior Hockey League, now Island scout for the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL.
“It’s when parent involvement tends to stop as the kids are older and able to drive themselves to the rink.”
The 12-team Greater Victoria Classic, in its 11th year of operation with six teams from the Island and six from the Mainland, featured players one level below the elite B.C. Major Midget League. But there are always the late shiners in sports, and this year’s Jeff Batters tournament was attended by scouts from Kamloops, Tri-City and Kelowna of the WHL, some from the BCHL including the Victoria Grizzlies and several from Junior B leagues.
“In the three years we’ve been coming to this tournament, we’ve had 14 players go on to play in Junior A or Junior B — including Marcus Vela [now with the Langley Rivermen of the BCHL], who has already been offered a full NCAA ride to New Hampshire [starting in 2016],” said victorious Burnaby Bulldogs head coach Cleveland Astle.
The Bulldogs went 5-0 over the weekend and outscored their opponents 35-5.
“In a short tournament such as this [Friday to Monday], you have to be good in recovery and we are. Recovery is huge and we study it while some other teams don’t,” said Astle.
Beyond the results, the weekend was again deeply personal for the Batters family.
“Jeff was a quiet but intense stay-at-home defender,” said Greg.
“He would have loved how hard these midget players work on the ice.”