Flyers Where are They Now?: Jimmy Watson

528380.jpg

Flyers Where are They Now?: Jimmy Watson

Admittedly, blood runs thicker than the ice water that needs to be poured over the sleeping heads of those who have a Flyers Hall of Fame vote and dont use it on Jimmy Watson. But whoever they are the team wont release names of the selectors brother Joe Watson would like to send over Schultzie, Hound and the boys for a little, uh, education.

Its a freaking injustice, said Joe. Jimmy was on five all-star teams and a Canada Cup team, I dont understand.

He was so smooth, steady, could backhand a pass as well as anybody who played in that era. People dont remember, I guess. It should have happened a long time ago.

Eventually, it probably will. But when Jimmy lay at Wills Eye Hospital for four days in 1977, both eyes covered after his left retina had been creased by the stick of the Blues Jerry Butler, Watson still had better vision than do these cumulative voters. By Cup II he had emerged as clearly the Flyers best defenseman in only his second season, on the way to a plus-295 for his nine-season career. One doesnt have to be related to him to see a wrong that needs righting.

Absolutely he belongs, said Bob Clarke. Jimmy could play.

In a day of a more up-and-down game, his lateral movement was exceptional. He anticipated the play and was really competitive, just a really good player.

Somehow this has gotten lost, despite the fact Watson is not hard at all to find on almost any day on the ice at IceWorks in Aston, Delaware County.

You have to want the puck! last week he boomed to a group of Jim Watson Hockey School enrollees, not old enough to remember him but decades away from becoming deaf enough to ignore him.

At IceWorks, a four-rink complex he owns with four partners, Watson imparts the same passion at his school and at the Jim Watson Academy for teenagers serious about scholarships or junior hockey that he brought to his contemporaries in the Flyers golden age.

The joke amongst writers who covered him was that it was impossible to ask Watson a question without him answering it this teams got a lot of pride. Indeed it did, largely because he compulsively stoked it.

Whenever anyone started complaining, Jimmy was the first guy to shut him up, Paul Holmgren once said.

Fuzzy as Watsons eyesight became after the high stick, he had a 20-20 look at a world of two distinct categories: 1) Good for hockey or 2) Bad for hockey. And three and a half decades later Can you believe it, 35 years! he said last week over an IceWorks sandwich nothing has changed at age 59, save the color of his hair.

I love working with the kids, dont think I ever will retire, he said. I will pass away in an ice rink someday, probably die right here.

As far as Watson is concerned, hes already in heaven. And he has been since he and local partners tired of driving their kids to a rundown rink in Valley Forge found a tract of land on Duttons Mill Road that shifted Watson from a contracting business he had run since retiring in 1982.

Built a lot of houses, said Watson. Two or three a year for 15 years.

General partner, general contractor, I enjoyed it for the most part. But when we built the rink in 1997, I had to be here in the summertime to work my camps and keep the cash flowing going. Thats your busy time of the year for building so I just couldnt keep both working.

Frankly, it was a blessing in disguise. The contracting business hit the skids with everything else. I got the hell out of it at the right time.

Timing is everything in life. Watson was unlucky to walk into a jaw-busting, concussion-causing, slap shot fired by Team USAs Gary Sargent early in the first Canada Cup, then four months later was star-crossed again when Butler tried to lift his stick, missed, and left half his hard contact lens in his eye and half of it on the St. Louis Arena ice.

Creased the retina, created a fuzziness in my one eye, he said. Eventually, after I quit, had to have a cataract removed.

But the eye didnt end up keeping me from playing, it was more my back that caused my early retirement.

I got nine years in, should have had five or six more, maybe even longer. I was always in great shape. But injuries eventually get almost everybody in the game, got Joe, got me. I dont feel cheated at all, no sir, not at all. I feel very, very fortunate and grateful for everything I got.

When you are a kid setting out to do this, you have no idea where its going to go. You get drafted by the Flyers, where my brother plays, thats just wonderful, then I make the team my second year. Im a rookie in the NHL and doing something I wanted to do my whole life and then we win the Stanley Cup that year. And win it again the next. As I tell my little campers, how good is that?

About as good as he was, which, in our view, is behind only Mark Howe, Chris Pronger and Eric Desjardins among defensemen in Flyers history, even if Watson is not in their Hall of Fame, even if he insists he doesnt mind.

Too busy here at the rink to think about that, he shrugged, perhaps because though he has never been unheard, Watson has had previous practice at being overlooked.

Joe was the booming Thundermouth of the six siblings of Joe Sr. and Mary Watson of Smithers, B.C. a remote picture postcard town set in the Canadian Rockies. But Jimmy brought some decibels, too, along with mobility to a blueline that apparently was undervalued in the 1972 draft.

A first-team Western Hockey League all-star in Calgary, Watson nevertheless dropped to the third round of what would be an exceptional Flyer haul of Bill Barber (first), Tom Bladon (second) and Al MacAdam (a 240-NHL goal scorer after being used in the Reggie Leach deal, taken fourth).

When Watson, following a full season in Richmond, made the Flyers out of training camp in 1973, Fred Sheros trust was implicit from the first shift of the season. More offense in Watsons game was on its way, too, when essentially it was struck down by that high stick. Jerry Butler, never got along with that guy, sort of a dirty player, Watson said.

Nevertheless, Watson scored the goals that took out the Maple Leafs in Game 6 in 1977 and restored a two-goal lead in Boston the December day of 1979 when the Flyers set an NHL record with their 29th consecutive game without a loss. Even as his back began to diminish him, Watson remained among the better defensemen in the league.

Problem started as early as the second Cup year, he said. We kept it hidden, but I was getting treatment in Buffalo during the Final.

When he got to his fourth one in 1980, it was with a clavicle that had been broken by a Barry Beck check in the second round. A couple hard hits in Game 6 of the Final left him in the locker room for the third period and overtime, when Bob Nystrom scored.

We almost won a third Cup, said Watson. Leon Stickle, jeez.

What a year that was. Clarkie, Reggie, Ricky, Moose (Dupont) and I were still around from the Cup teams. Paul Holmgren had a great year and then we had what I called "The New Breed," (Brian) Propp, (Pete) Peeters, Ken Linseman, Behn Wilson. Some real beauties there. But we just kept outscoring everybody. Thirty-five without a loss, goodness!

His body wore down before his enthusiasm. When electrical stimulation treatments didnt work, Watson underwent fusion surgery in February 1981.

Dr. Ian McNab at Wellesley Hospital in Toronto, world-renowned back guy, did a great job, said Watson. I feel great today, work out, have no back problems at all.

But when I tried to play after the operation, I was stiffening up all the time, didnt have the range of motion. A bad back never leaves you, just wears you down emotionally. I was not as active as I used to be and the Flyers could see that.

In 1981-82, he played 76 games, but not well. Watson gave himself the summer to rejuvenate, but after an exhibition game at the Meadowlands, he sat quietly sobbing on a locker room bench, knowing it was over.

I said to Joe, (then a Flyers assistant coach) I just cant go anymore. The next day Watson went to see GM Keith Allen and emerged with a scouting job to fulfill the final year of his contract. The Flyers, who had just acquired Mark Howe, were building and by the following year, Watson was too, sturdy single-family units in Delaware County, where he had lived during his playing days.

A marriage failed. So Im still eligible, he laughed.

For Father of Every Year certainly.

Chase, 28, who played at Providence College, hopes to find another years work in the East Coast Hockey League. Told him to keep chasing his dream, said Jimmy.

Son Brett, recently graduated captain at UMass, has gone to work for J.P. Morgan. Daughter Caitlin, who just graduated from Penn State with a degree in elementary education, is substitute teaching and coordinating Watsons hockey school.

Joe still works in sales for the Flyers. All six Watson brothers survive, probably because they come from sturdy stock. Joe Watson Sr. died in March at 93, a year after Mary passed at 87, the last two times Jimmy has gone home. He used to say he would draw his last breath in Smithers, but now plans to have it take place at IceWorks.

We built this thing in eight months, he said. Unbelievable, just a wonderful accomplishment.

You cant say enough about fully-involved, do-it-yourself, endeavors and thats what we have here. I won two Stanley Cups and Im more proud of my work with these kids than of anything Ive done in my life.

No tricks up the rolled-up sleeves of one of the best and most sincere Flyers ever. If few ever bought a ticket to the Spectrum for the express purpose of seeing Jimmy Watson play, once inside everybody was reassured by his being there.

Jay Greenberg covered the Flyers for 14 years for the Daily News and Evening Bulletin. His history of the Flyers, Full Spectrum, was published in 1996. He can be reached at jayg616@aol.com.

Rick MacLeish's Flyers teammates react to his passing

ap-rick-macleish.jpg
Associated Press

Rick MacLeish's Flyers teammates react to his passing

PITTSBURGH -- Former Flyers captain and Hockey Hall of Famer Bob Clarke was Rick MacLeish’s teammate for 12 years and two Stanley Cups.
 
“Ricky was the most talented player the Flyers had during the 1970s,” said a saddened Clarke on Tuesday, after the announcement of MacLeish’s death at 66 late on Memorial Day (see story).
 
“Life after hockey wasn’t fair to Ricky. He left us far too soon.”
 
The center from Lindsay, Ontario, had been hospitalized in Philadelphia since mid-May while suffering from multiple medical issues, according to his daughter Brianna.
 
Here’s what other teammates had to say:
 
“Ricky was a special player for the Flyers,” said Bill Barber. “He always came up with scoring the big goals and he was instrumental helping us win two Stanley Cups. He will be greatly missed.”
 
Gary Dornhoefer was MacLeish's linemate with Ross Lonsberry for almost six seasons.
 
“I’ll tell you what, he was probably the fastest player on the ice,” Dornhoefer said. “As far as a wrist shot is concerned, there was no one better at getting that shot away and accurate. Ross and I would talk and say ‘let’s just give Ricky the puck and he’ll put it in.’
 
“If you look at the amount of goals he scored [328 as a Flyer], well, that’s why we kept giving him the puck. Ross and I had cement hands, so we’d pass the puck to him. The Flyers could have a mediocre game, but because of his skills as a player and the athlete that he was, he could carry us.
 
“He was that gifted. I always felt that during the years he played, he never got the recognition that he properly deserved. He was that good. It saddens me that he was such a young man and is no longer with us. That really hurts.”
 
Bob “The Hound” Kelly agreed.
 
“Rick was probably the most gifted, natural centerman that the Flyers have ever had,” Kelly said. “He was a tough kid who skated and worked hard.
 
“Although he played in the shadow of Clarkie, he was every bit as good as Clarkie. Clarkie was more of a natural leader where Rick was just quiet and simply went out there and played his heart out. He was a great guy and it is very sad that we had to lose him at such an early age.”
 
Joe Watson made a few comparisons.
 
“I’d put him up there with [Claude] Giroux, [Eric] Lindros and [Peter] Forsberg in terms of natural skill,” Watson said. “He was a great player and we’ll certainly miss him.”

Flyers 2015-16 Redux: Defensemen - Part 1

052816-provorov-webbestvideo3_1920x1080_694956611777.jpg

Flyers 2015-16 Redux: Defensemen - Part 1

Too many bodies and not enough room at the inn.

That pretty much describes the dilemma the Flyers will face this offseason in addressing their defense, which dramatically improved once Shayne Gostisbehere arrived in November.
 
If there is one thing the Calder Trophy finalist showed, it's you can't have enough quick, young feet with the ability to create offense on the back end.

Gostisbehere gave Flyers fans a glimpse into the defense's future — it's loaded with young talent. The line behind Gostisbehere is long — the deepest pool of young defensive talent in club history.
 
All eyes will be watching this fall to see whether Ivan Provorov can catapult himself ahead of Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin and Robert Hagg and win a roster spot, which means at least one blueliner must go from the 2015-16 roster.
 
“We're not going to change philosophically in terms of young players,” general manager Ron Hextall said April 27, the day after the players cleared out their dressing room stalls following the playoff loss the Washington Capitals.
 
“They have to come in and be better than someone else that's here and, if that happens, we proved last year that we'll make room in our roster for a young player that proves to us that he's ready to play at this level and make our team better.
 
“I'm not putting a player on the team so we can say we're a young team. They're going to come in here and earn a spot.”
 
Here is a deeper look back on this year’s defense:
 
Michael Del Zotto

Age: Turns 26 on June 25
Stats:52 GP; 4G, 9A, 13 PTS, -8, 23:24 MIN
Cap hit: $3.875 million.

Missed the final 28 games of the regular season following surgery to repair a broken left wrist that had been bothering him since being injured initially on Dec. 21 against St. Louis. No doubt the injury played a pivotal role in limiting Del Zotto's offensive effectiveness just one year after rejuvenating his career with the Flyers with 10 goals and 32 points and earning a two-year contract extension. Del Zotto's best years are still ahead of him. He hit his 400th career game in November. He seemed to get it this year, as to when not to join the attack. Just imagine a lineup with Del Zotto, Gostisbehere and Provorov. The 2016-17 season will see what kind of contract he can earn as an unrestricted free agent.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere

Age: 23
Stats: 64 GP, 17G, 29A, 46 PTS, +8, 20:05 MIN
Cap hit: $925,000.

What can you saw about the most dynamic and impactful Flyers rookie since Mikael Renberg, who was the franchise's last Calder finalist back in 1993-94. With bonuses, Gostisbehere earned over $1 million this season. If Mark Streit never gets injured, chances are we don't see Gostisbehere until late in the season. Yet, the way things turned out, he became a Calder finalist.

His offense from the back-end includes things fans have been yearning for: speed, agility, youth and a great shot, as well. He quickly began to quarterback the power play in Streit's absence. "Ghost" led all NHL rookie defensemen in points while setting a couple franchise records, including goals by a rookie blueliner (17).

His rawness on the defensive end was evident all the way through, yet that was expected. It's a fair tradeoff for what Gostisbehere produces at the other end. He had strong chemistry with defensive partner Andrew MacDonald. Offseason hip/abdominal surgery should not be a concern.

The sky's the limit with this kid.
 
Radko Gudas
Age: Turns 26 this June 5
Stats: 76 GP, 5G, 9A  14 PTS, -3; 19:50 MIN.
Cap hit: RFA who earned $991,666 last season.

In the beginning, there seemed to be no middle ground with Gudas. You either loved him or you hated him depending upon whether he threw a questionable hit and was faced a suspension or used his physical edge to the Flyers' advantage. By season's end, however, Gudas seemed to settle in as a consistent defensive presence.

Still, you worry about his questionable hits. His 304 hits were second in the NHL this season. He's the only defenseman the Flyers have who scares people on the back end.

His 157 blocks were second only to Nick Schultz's 174. Gudas is surprisingly mobile given his girth. He played his 200th career game in April and spent much of the season paired first with Del Zotto and then Brandon Manning. He was effective in the playoffs against the Caps.
 
Andrew MacDonald
Age: Turns 30 on Sept. 7
Stats: 28GP, 1G, 7A, 8 PTS, +10; 20:07 MIN
Cap hit: $5 million

The Flyers didn't want to pay Matt Carle $5 million per year in 2012. The fans never appreciated him and when Carle left for Tampa as a free agent, it took a while for the organization to realize Carle gave them what they wanted on the back end, which is why the Flyers overpaid in trading for and then re-signing MacDonald.

The problem was MacDonald lacked on the defensive side and quickly got caught up in a numbers game, which resulted in his starting the season with Phantoms.

Del Zotto's injury allowed MacDonald's re-entry to the Flyers and he played very well as Gostisbehere's partner right into the playoffs. He was among the team's best players in postseason. MacDonald's time spent in the AHL also saw him improve his defensive play.

MacDonald deserves a chance to remain a Flyer, but again, numbers and cap hit will again stand in his way.

Flyers legend Rick MacLeish dies at 66

flyers-rick-macleish1.jpg
Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers legend Rick MacLeish dies at 66

Rick MacLeish, the smooth-skating centerman with a potent wrist shot whose goal lifted the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup, died late Monday night.

MacLeish was 66.
 
The center from Lindsay, Ontario, had been hospitalized in Philadelphia since mid-May while suffering from multiple medical issues, according to his daughter Brianna.

“With the passing of Rick MacLeish, the Flyers have lost one of their legends,” Flyers president Paul Holmgren said. “A good father, grandfather, teammate and friend, Rick will be missed by all who were fortunate to come and know him over the years.
 
“His happy and friendly demeanor was front and center everywhere Rick went. Today, our thoughts and prayers are with Rick’s wife, Charlene, his daughters, Danielle and Brianna along with his grandchildren. May he rest in peace.”
 
MacLeish was the Flyers’ first 50-goal scorer and second 100-point player behind Bobby Clarke, with both milestones achieved in 1972-73. A three-time NHL All-Star, he won two Cups with the Flyers.
 
He will forever be known for his power-play-tip goal in front of Boston goalie Gilles Gilbert in the first period of Game 6 of the 1974 Cup Final. Bernie Parent made the goal stand the remainder of the game.
 
MacLeish played 16 seasons, including 12 as a Flyer. He was an integral member of the Flyers’ 1974 and 1975 Cup squads.
 
MacLeish's 697 points are second only to Clarke (1,210) in club history among centers, and he ranks fourth in all-time points (697), fifth in assists (369) and sixth in goal-scoring (328).
 
His 741 games in orange and black are tied for sixth overall, and his 12 hat tricks are second only to Tim Kerr (17). MacLeish scored 54 goals with 53 assists (107 points) in 114 playoff games.
 
After leaving the Flyers, he also played in Pittsburgh, Hartford and Detroit, amassing 759 career points in 846 games.
 
Drafted fourth overall by Boston in 1970, MacLeish became a Flyer as part of three-team trade involving the Bruins and Toronto that same year.
 
Known for his effortless motion and blazing speed on the ice, MacLeish had a reputation as an unmotivated player early in his career until his breakout season in 1972-73.
 
“You can’t motivate someone who doesn’t want to play, and the Flyers didn’t keep you if you weren’t committed to winning,” teammate Gary Dornhoefer once said.
 
“It might have taken MacLeish a few years to mature as a hockey player, but he earned his keep as a member of the team.”
 
MacLeish was the Flyers’ first legitimate sniper, often wristing his deadly shot from the circles.
 
During the 1974 playoffs, he led the Flyers in both goals (13) and points (22) and finished second to Parent in the Conn Smythe Trophy voting for playoff MVP.
 
After his retirement, MacLeish dabbled in owning race horses and worked with the Flyers' alumni.
 
Among his last major public appearances with Cup teammates in Philadelphia was at the closing of the Spectrum party on Jan. 16, 2010, hosted by Flyers chairman Ed Snider, who died in April.