Spirited 67's goalie eyes return

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

Danny Battochio takes nothing for granted, especially his health.

The Ottawa 67's second-year goaltender has already experienced more in that respect than most 18-year-olds. Trips to hospitals have become second nature.

The Sudbury native has been on the shelf since Oct. 30 with a separated shoulder. But he could be back in action tonight when the 67's come into the John Labatt Centre to play the streaking London Knights.

"If Danny says he's ready, he'll start," 67's coach-GM Brian Kilrea said yesterday.

The Knights are 20-0-1-0 as they chase the Ontario Hockey League record for the longest unbeaten streak. That's 25 games set by the 1983-84 Kitchener Rangers.

They also have set their sights on the Canadian Hockey League undefeated record -- 29 games, by the 1978-79 Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League.

The 67's, picked at the beginning of the season as one of the favourites in the Eastern Conference, are struggling at eighth in the conference with an 8-8-2-1 record.

Battochio was injured when he went behind his net to play the puck in Saginaw and was hit from behind by Spirit centre Sean Courtney.

Courtney got a minor penalty for tripping but the 67's claimed it was a slew foot. After watching the videotape, the league ruled Courtney was jumping to avoid another Ottawa player when he ran into Battochio.

"I went out to play the puck and he caught me on my back skate," Battochio said. "It was disappointing because I was feeling pretty good out there. Now this happens."

Battochio has every reason to be disappointed after missing the last three months of the 2003-04 season. He had gone into convulsions at his Sudbury home at three in the morning on Christmas Day. A few hours later, he was experiencing more problems and, at the urging of his aunt, who is a nurse, he went to hospital.

Doctors eventually discovered a malformed blood vessel near his brain.

A weakening of the vessel behind his eyes created a blockage and unless it was surgically repaired, the vessel could have ruptured, causing bleeding on the brain, a potentially fatal situation.

It turned out it was a condition he had had since birth but which had been dormant.

Battochio's rookie season ended and he didn't know if he'd play again after making the 67's as a walk-on.

"You don't even think about hockey when something like that happens," he said, crediting his quick-thinking aunt.

But less than a year later, he made a full recovery and rejoined the 67's. He has a 6-5-0 record and .912 save percentage in 11 games.

However, misfortune continued to follow him when he suffered the separated shoulder.

But just the fact he is playing again is amazing.

"The doctors told me I could make a good recovery," he said. "The 67's gave me so much support. Killer (Kilrea) told me to take as much time as I needed.

"That really helped because there was no pressure."

Kilrea said the determination Battochio had for making the team as a walk-on also helped him battle his illness.

"It's unbelievable what Danny went through last year," Kilrea said. "When you think of it -- holy smokes.

"But he said he'd beat it and he did."

KNIGHTWATCH

Tonight: The London Knights vs. Ottawa 67's at the John Labatt Centre. Game time is 7 p.m., changed to accommodate Rogers Sportsnet. The game is sold out although some tickets may become available later today.

Sunday: The Soo Greyhounds are at the JLC (2 p.m.). Some single seats and standing room remain.


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