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Bathgate follows grandpa's footsteps

by Zack Crawford / Detroit Red Wings
Plymouth (OHL) forward Andy Bathgate is hoping that he can following his Hall-of-Fame grandfather into the NHL. (Courtesy of Plymouth Whalers)
DETROIT – When Andy Bathgate played for the Red Wings, the Ontario Hockey League was seven-years from forming, Joe Louis Arena was 12-years from being built, and Bathgate’s grandson was 24-years from being born.

This week all of those histories collided as the younger Andy Bathgate and his Plymouth Whalers practiced at The Joe.

Bathgate, 20, of Brampton, Ontario, was acquired by the Whalers last summer after spending four seasons with the OHL’s Belleville Bulls. The 6-foot center has already had an impressive season in Plymouth, collecting nine goals and 16 assists in 28 games.

But, as the grandson of a Stanley Cup winner, Bathgate is well-aware of what it takes to push his game to the next level.

The eldest Bathgate played two seasons for the Wings (1965-67) and at one point had the longest consecutive assist streak in the NHL with eight assists over an eight-game period. And in the 1966 playoffs he scored six goals, tying teammate Norm Ullman for the most that spring. Five of those six goals came in the semifinals against Chicago — a feat that still stands as a team record for most goals in one playoff series.

Outside of the Wings’ franchise, Bathgate achieved enough on the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins to earn an induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame: in 1961-62, he tied Bobby Hull for the league lead in points; in 1958-59, he scored 40 goals and won the Hart Memorial Trophy; and in 1963-64, he raised the Stanley Cup with the Leafs.

These days, the 79-nine year-old works at a golf course in Mississaugua, Ontario, where he shares hockey wisdom and stories with his grandson during the summer months.

“He kind of stayed under the radar, behind the scenes a little bit but he taught me more than I could ever say about hockey,” the younger Bathgate said of his grandfather, who helped coach his team when he was younger. “I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t around.”

Bathgate jokes that his grandpa hasn’t taken off the ring yet since he won the Cup in 1964. And in addition to the aches and bruises — bad knees and a bad hip — that he still carries around from his time in the league, the Hall of Famer has 17 seasons worth of NHL stories to share while the two family members are on the links.

“I can’t have a conversation with him without talking about hockey,” Bathgate said. “He just taught me that you’ve always got to have fun.”
Andy Bathgate spent much of his Hall of Fame career in New York, but he did play two seasons with the Red Wings. (Photo by Getty Images)

But the former NHL player must have taught his grandson more than just how to have fun on the ice, as young Bathgate was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fifth-round in the 2009 NHL draft. Although he never signed with the Penguins, Bathgate is hopeful about the current season and his future.

As the second oldest player on the team, Bathgate brings experience and discipline to the Whalers, who lead the OHL’s West Division with a 17-8 record.

Bathgate’s transition from Ontario to the States — where play is quicker, more aggressive and more reflective of the NHL — wasn’t without an effect on his personal game.

“I had to adjust my game a little bit at the beginning of the season,” he said. “I found out I was getting hit a lot more and a lot harder. So you obviously got to keep your head up and your feet moving.”

But the biggest adjustment for Bathgate may have been off the ice, moving to suburban Detroit where, according to the center, “Gas is a little bit cheaper and the fast food is amazing.”

As Bathgate continues to contend with the Whalers, he hopes to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and sign an NHL contract.

“This year we’ll hopefully make a good run,” Bathgate said of his squad. “I know we have a great team and this is our year. So take it as far as we can, hopefully right to the Memorial Cup.”
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