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Jimmy Watson confirmed for Smithers-Canucks Alumni game

Former Philadelphia Flyer and Stanley Cup champ returns to the Bulkley Valley
Joe and Jim Watson played together for the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1970s. (Submitted photo)

With 2020 being the 50th anniversary of the Vancouver Canucks, their Alumni Team has chosen Smithers as the destination to help celebrate the special occasion. The Stars of the 90s such as Kirk McLean, Cliff Ronning, Geoff Courtnall, Jyrki Lumme, Dave Babych, Thomas Gradin, Kyle Wellwood, Chris Higgins and more will be taking the ice against the Smithers Flyers on Feb. 29.

In fact, the Smithers Celebrity Golf Tournament committee has been organizing the amazing weekend of festivities for the Canucks Alumni since September, with all of the proceeds going to Smithers Minor Hockey.

Hockey fans who follow the Canucks are familiar with most of those names. In fact, the locals are probably more familiar with the Canucks than the Smithers Flyers. The Flyers are a team made up of players from the same era as the Canucks Alumni, with a little less NHL experience, as in none. Players like Wayne Oud, Tom Devries, Jerry Watson, Justin Flynn, Dennis Olson, Jordie and Brendan Hutchinson; good players but can they compete with the Canucks?

It became obvious to the Flyers head coach Steve Kerbrat that they may need some help.

“I felt we needed to boost our talent level and insert some leadership and toughness into our lineup. That is why we called up the greatest Smithers Flyer of all-time, Jimmy Watson.”

An original Broad Street Bully, Watson was excited to get the chance to play in front of his home crowd once again and will be flying in from Philadelphia to help the local boys get a win.

The two-time Stanley Cup Champion and five-time NHL All-Star amassed 38 goals, 148 assists and a plus-295 rating in 613 career games, all with the Flyers. He was just as steady in the postseason, recording five goals and 34 assists in 101 games.

“That’s all I wanted to do, to play in the NHL and win a Stanley Cup,” he said. “And for goodness sakes, as a rookie I win the Stanley Cup. I’ll never forget sitting in the locker room after winning the Stanley Cup, and I could hardly believe what had occurred. I never forgot that and I never will. It was like, ‘What did we just accomplish here, what did I just do?’ I’ve got to grasp all this.”

For many players who win the Stanley Cup as a rookie, there is nowhere to go but down. Jim Watson didn’t see it that way.

“I went back to Smithers that summer and people said, ‘Oh my goodness, Jim, you made the NHL and won a Stanley Cup in your rookie year. ‘What are you going to do for an encore’? And I said we’re going to do it again. And lo and behold, we won it again!” Watson said with a chuckle.

The next season, Watson played a major role as the Broad Street Bullies successfully defended the Stanley Cup. He had 25 points and a +41 rating, earning his first trip to the NHL All-Star Game.

In 1975-76, Jim Watson had the best offensive year of his career, tallying 36 points and earning his second trip to the All-Star Game. He was also honoured with a starting job for Team Canada at the 1976 Canada Cup, playing alongside Bobby Orr. Jim played extremely well until he was knocked out of the lineup by a fractured cheekbone, sustained after a slapshot from Team USA forward Gary Sargent hit Watson flush in the face. He made it back to the Flyers in time for opening night of the 1976-77 season.

He routinely posted staggering plus/minus totals throughout his career, but Watson cared only about wins and losses, not statistics. Although he was an above-average skater and an excellent passer with good offensive instincts, Jim only jumped into the offence when the team was desperate for a goal. While he only scored 38 career regular season goals and five in the playoffs, Watson’s knack for coming through in the clutch continued throughout his career.

Watson gives a lot of credit to his older brother, Joe, who was inducted into the Flyers’ Hall of Fame in 1996, for his success. The brothers, who grew up together in Smithers, were fortunate enough to play together in Philadelphia and helped solidify a formidable back end under Fred Shero. Joe was in your face. Jimmy was more finesse.

“When you think about it when we were just young kids playing hockey in northern British Columbia in a small little town playing on the ponds, the rinks in the back yard and the lakes,” Jimmy said. “Playing street hockey with tin cans, we didn’t even have balls back then, we just had tin cans. All that stuff we did, taking tin cans in the face, getting stitches just because we’re playing street hockey with a piece of gravel hitting me from the blacktop and just playing together.

“I used to tag along with Joe as a kid, just at his bootstraps and just said, ‘Joe, I wanna go with you. Where ya going now?’ As we got older, we got to be men and we played together, and to see this happen, all those memories come flooding back to you. Joe has been a big, big part of my life, of course my older brother and just a real leader in my life. It’s kind of like everything coming together, if you will, at the very end for us.”

Equally important was Watson’s burgeoning leadership and ability to play top-notch hockey through serious injuries. Whenever the Flyers locker room fell uncharacteristically silent, the younger Watson brother rallied the troops with an enthusiastic, “Let’s go, boys! We can do it, we can do it!” But if a player stepped out of line or gave less-than-maximum effort, Watson never hesitated to put him in his place.

Injuries started to pile up for Jim in his mid-20s. First, during the 1976-77 season, he suffered permanent retinal damage after an inadvertent high stick by Jerry Butler of the St. Louis Blues caught him in the eye. By the early 1980s, as his body continued to betray him. Watson was only able to suit up for 18 games in the 1980-81 season before the pain in his back became unbearable. He underwent spinal fusion surgery and missed the rest of the season.

After the 1981-82 season, the 30-year-old Watson made a tough decision. With the newly acquired Mark Howe ready to assume the top blue line spot and facing the prospect of reduced playing time and continued back pain, Jim Watson retired with his two Stanley Cup rings.

In 1997, Jim and several business partners began a side venture tied to his first love – hockey. They built and managed the four-rink Ice Works complex in Aston, Pa. Three years later, the five-time NHL All Star started a 16-and-up summer hockey training program called The Jim Watson Hockey Academy. Two of its most successful graduates are Jim’s own sons, Chase and Brett.

Watson considers himself lucky, though. He was part of the magical back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1974 and 1975 and takes great pride in what he was able to accomplish with the Philadelphia Flyers. He also led the 1979-80 team, coached by Pat Quinn, to a 35-game unbeaten streak, an NHL record that will probably never be broken.

Let’s hope that he can accomplish one more win with the Smithers Flyers, Feb. 29. There are still a few tickets available at Dan’s Sports. Stay connected to The Interior News for updates on numerous others special events happening during the Canucks Alumni 50th Anniversary Celebration on the last weekend of February.

Submitted article