MacKenzie Weegar never needs any arm-twisting to come to Nova Scotia for a visit, so when the organizers of the Jordan Boyd Celebrity Hockey Challenge asked him to participate in this year's tournament the decision was a no-brainer.
“Absolutely,” said Weegar, who played for the Mooseheads from 2012-14 and is now a member of the Florida Panthers. “I spend my summers at home in Ottawa training but I try to get to Halifax as much as I can. I love it here.
“When they asked me to come, I said yes right away. I think it’s a great charity. I didn’t know Jordan Boyd but I’m happy to come here and honour him and help make this a great event.”
Weegar was one of the celebrity guests at the annual tournament, which is now in its sixth year. Boyd’s family and friends organized it after he passed away suddenly during a training camp session with the Bathurst Titan on Aug. 12, 2013.
Boyd was only 16 at the time and examinations later revealed he had an inherited heart condition known as arrhythmogenic right ventricle cardiomyopathy that had never been diagnosed. The foundation has now raised more than $855,000 and driven several other research and awareness initiatives to prevent undetected cardiac events for others.
“I played against Jordan throughout minor hockey so I knew him through that,” said Drake Batherson, a forward with the Ottawa Senators. “And a lot of my buddies are here playing in the tournament so it was nice to catch up with them. But most of all it’s because it’s a great cause.”
Members of the Boyd family attended a ceremony at the Halifax Infirmary on Thursday where a mural honouring the late Bedford native was unveiled. It is meant to educate but also further his legacy.
“It’s awesome what they’ve done,” Batherson said. “We have a lot of fun on the ice and hopefully we can help something positive come out of it. I’m really happy I could be here.”
Batherson spends his summers at home in New Minas but travels to HRM virtually every day to train or skate with other elite players in the area. He split his first pro season between the Senators and their AHL farm team in Belleville.
He had three goals and six assists in 20 NHL games and was 15th in AHL scoring and fourth among rookies with 62 points in 59 games.
“As a first-year pro you don’t really know what to expect going in. I had a lot to learn,” said the 21-year-old. “I had to learn how to cook and do my laundry and all that stuff. My billet parents and my parents used to do all that for me so that was all new. But I got the hang of it after a couple of months. Then when I got called up it was such a dream come true.
“It was crazy. I got called up on a Monday and we didn’t play until Thursday so it’s all I could think about for four days. Obviously I was very nervous that whole time. I flew up my whole family so they could all be there for that game. Then to get my first goal in my first game was great.”
Weegar, 25, is entering his third full NHL season and just signed a one-year contract extension worth $1.6 million (US).
“It was a long negotiation and I’m super happy to be back in Florida. I love it there,” he said. “We’re going to have a pretty good team this year so I’m really excited to go back.”
Weegar improved from eight points in his rookie NHL season to 15 last year. He also averaged two-and-a-half more minutes of ice time per game and started getting some shifts on special teams. The Panthers recently hired veteran coach Joel Quenneville to replace Bob Boughner behind the bench.
“We have a strong D corps so we’ll see what kind of minutes we all get,” Weegar said. “I’m looking forward to going back. I sort of know the city and everybody there now. I’m going to be even more comfortable there now and I think it’ll be a good year for me.”