August 12, 2013

Phil Watson

The Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers both claimed Phil Watson as being on their negotiation list, but NHL president Frank Calder ruled in favor of the Rangers. Watson would break in with the Rangers during the 1935-36 season.

"A cheeky little snip," Watson was a fiery right wing who played center also and often his temper got him into trouble. The most hilariously funny incident involving Fiery Phil - as he came to be known - occurred early in his career when his knowledge of English was limited. It was a common insult in the NHL in those days to call a player a "has been", since there were plenty of players over thirty years of age in those days. Johnny Gottselig of the Chicago Blackhawks needled Phil one night and finally Watson had enough. After being knocked down by Gottselig, Phil yelled at Gottselig "You, you... lousy BEEN has!!"

One unidentified newspaperman eloquently referred to Watson as "a 155 pound parcel of dynamite just asking to be detonated." He adds "Watson, reckless as well as fearless, challenges players twice as husky and muscular as himself and flies in the face of foolhardy odds. Naturally, the other teams in the league are studded with powerful defense men aching for the chance to get even with the little speed demon who has outskated and outgambled them so often. But these muscle men are cautious about taking their revenge. Whenever one of them forgets himself and starts a war with Watson, he finds he has an entire, aroused Ranger team on his hands. And an aroused Ranger team is a sight to see."

"Watson gets us into too many fights and too much trouble," said coach Lester Patrick. "Phil's the most eccentric, dynamic, unstoppable player I've coached in a lifetime of hockey; something seems to snap inside his head when there's a flare-up on the ice, and he just can't stay out of a fight, anybody's fight. But I'm afraid to caution him too much--I might cure him!"

Watson was a key player in the spring of 1940, when the New York Rangers famously won the Stanley Cup. Watson was brilliant in the semi-finals against Boston, checking the famed "Kraut Line," who finished 1-2-3 in NHL regular season scoring. Watson held them to just a lone goal in their six game series. Watson, meanwhile, scored twice, including the winner in game one. Watson would do a similar defensive job against Toronto, while adding a lead-tying 5 points in the finals.

Watson, who was described by coach Lester Patrick as "The fastest and most elusive skater in the league," went on to make the 2nd All-Star Team in 1941-42. Largely due to war time travel restrictions, he joined the Canadiens in 1943-44. On January 11th, 1944, he foolishly attacked linesman Jim Primeau, and was suspended indefinitely from the NHL by new NHL president Red Dutton, who had replaced Frank Calder after his death in 1943. Watson explained to Dutton that he was tied up by the linesman while his glove dropping partner continued to pound him. As a result Watson got mad at Primeau. Apparently referee Bert Hedges was inclined to give Watson the benefit of the doubt as Watson was reinstated after missing one game.

Watson played in the NHL until 1947-48 and then retired. He turned to coaching in 1948-49 and coached the New York Rovers of the EHL. He tended to needle his players and treat them like children, as Gump Worsley said.

"Phil had his whipping boys, and I was one of them." Gump recalled "He knew hockey top to bottom, but he didn't know how to handle players."

Ironically, Watson became coach of the Rangers in 1955-56 and Worsley was his goalkeeper. Watson needled Worsley about his drinking and tendency to overindulge at the dinner table. Worsley swallowed his anger and gave Watson three straight years in the playoffs, and Watson was convinced.

The high-stung Watson suffered a bleeding ulcer in 1959-60 and quit as coach. He coached Providence of the AHL and returned to coach the Boston Bruins to a pair of last place finishes and was fired. He later coached Philadelphia of the WHA in 1972-73.

Born in 1914, he died in his sleep of a heart attack February 1st, 1991.

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