I used to be saddened to study that former Penguins defenseman Bryan Watson handed away yesterday at age 78. A hockey neophyte when “Bugsy” served because the group’s “policeman” again within the late Sixties and early ‘70s, I can nonetheless recall youngsters on the bus cease recounting his fights and different nefarious exploits with wide-eyed pleasure. With out additional ado, right here’s my sendoff to the powerful little battler. Relaxation in peace, Bugsy.
When Bryan Joseph Watson arrived in Pittsburgh in January 1969 as a part of a giant six-player commerce with Oakland, the Penguins had been mired within the West Division cellar and hopelessly out of playoff competition. They had been moderately expert by enlargement group requirements, however sadly missing in character and grit.
“Watson is the important thing,” mentioned Penguins basic supervisor Jack Riley. “He’s a troublesome little man. He has the standard we wish. He’s a hockey participant with spark.”
A rambunctious little defenseman whose coronary heart was a number of sizes greater than his undersized physique, Watson had made a reputation for himself in the course of the 1966 Stanley Cup Semifinals. Assigned the daunting process of shadowing Chicago superman Bobby Hull, the callow 23-year-old Pink Wing resorted to techniques authorized and unlawful—together with a liberal dose of stick work—to carry “the Golden Jet” in test.
“Once I’m instructed to look at a man, I watch him,” Watson mentioned with an impish grin.
Hull was much less enthusiastic. When requested about his tormentor after the Black Hawks had been vanquished, the usually gracious Hull steamed, “Boy does that man bug me!” From then on Watson was referred to as “Bugsy.”
Watson instantly established himself within the Metal Metropolis. Out of the blue opponents who tried to take liberties along with his much less combative teammates, most notably the Blues’ rugged Plager brothers, Barclay and Bob, discovered themselves nose-to-nose with the little roughneck. Not coincidentally, the Penguins rallied sharply and performed practically .500 hockey down the homestretch.
“He introduced a special component to the group,” Syl Apps mentioned. “He was very supportive of all people. He egged folks on; he may get one of the best out of some guys a technique or one other.”
Watson’s confrontational fashion made him wildly in style in Pittsburgh. Though removed from bodily imposing and common along with his dukes at finest, he was nonetheless a really efficient on-ice cop. With an arsenal that included journeys, slashes, elbows, cross-checks, butt-ends, and high-sticks—to not point out the quickest lip within the league—Bugsy would go to any size to cease an opponent.
“Pound for pound, he was the hardest and most hard-nosed participant ever,” mentioned the late John Ferguson, a former Montreal teammate and NHL heavyweight champ.
Bugsy willingly paid the worth for his indiscretions. Sporting a mass of scar tissue round his eyes and a nostril flattened from numerous battles, he had the look of a middleweight fighter.
“I’d higher get married quickly,” he joked, “earlier than I get any uglier.”
Though aggressive play was clearly his inventory in commerce, Watson labored exhausting to enhance himself as a hockey participant. In 1971-72, he loved his most interesting season, tallying a career-best 20 factors whereas piling up a league-leading 212 penalty minutes. The next season he paced the membership’s defensemen with a glowing plus-18.
“Bryan had some nice qualities,” teammate Jean Pronovost mentioned. “He was undoubtedly a group man. He would do something for the group. He wasn’t the most important man, however he had a giant coronary heart. I appreciated his angle. He was a participant’s participant. He put the group first. He sacrificed his physique to perform that. He was restricted talent-wise, however he lasted as a result of he was prepared to pay the worth.”
Bugsy additionally possessed an important humorousness. Throughout a highway journey to Los Angeles within the early Nineteen Seventies he famously hijacked a Marriott courtesy bus on a dare and took his teammates for a pleasure trip earlier than returning them to the lodge protected and sound.
On one other event, when the Penguins had been being operated by the league, he needled NHL Commissioner Clarence Campbell.
“Hey, Clarence,” he quipped, “how do you suppose your membership’s doing tonight?”
Though all the time a Penguin at coronary heart, Watson was traded to St. Louis in January of 1974. Regardless of his restricted expertise he performed for 5 extra seasons earlier than hanging up his skates. True to kind, Bugsy completed his NHL profession with 2,212 penalty minutes.
*Make sure you try Rick Bukers books,
accessible at TriumphBooks.com,