They called him Bugsy and Superpest but two things were certain about Bryan Watson. If you called him teammate, you loved the guy. If he was your shadow, you couldn’t shake him off with a stick, no matter hard hard you hit him with that stick.
Just ask Bobby Hull. Better yet, don’t. To this day, the former Chicago Blackhawks star bristles at the mention of Watson’s name and still refuses to utter it himself.
Watson, who died Thursday at the age of 78, was a 16-season NHL veteran of six teams. But it was during the 1965-66 Stanley Cup semifinal series between the Red Wings and Blackhawks that Watson forever cemented his reputation as Bugsy the Superpest.
The #RedWings are saddened to learn of the passing of Bryan Watson at the age of 78.
Watson played 16 seasons in the NHL, logging 47 points and 897 penalty minutes in 302 games with the Red Wings from 1965-67 and 1973-77.
Our deepest sympathies go out to his friends and family. pic.twitter.com/F9Ttj4TlG7
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) July 9, 2021
Watson was assigned the task of shadowing Hull, who’d led the NHL with 54 goals. When the series concluded in a six-game Detroit victory, Hull and Watson had each scored twice. Watson equaled his goa output for 70 regular-season games in the series. In the decisive sixth game, a 3-2 Red Wings victory, Watson took the frustrated Hull off the ice with him three times for offsetting minor penalties.
“I had a dream,” Watson told the Detroit Free Press during the series. “Bobby and his wife were out dancin’. And I was in between them.”
Bugsy Grounded The Golden Jet
Hull just growled about his treatment at the hands of Watson, refusing to say his name. “He’s made too much money off me already,” Hull snarled.
Chicago coach Billy Reay was more verbose in his opinon of Watson’s tactics. “What this guy did was rotten,” Reay said. “He used his stick on Bobby and grabbed him every time they came close together.
“He did everything. Interference, holding, cross checking. You can’t sell that kind of stuff to the public. The NHL won’t put anybody in their seats with that type of thing.”
Watson built a lengthy NHL career doing exactly that type of thing. He served two stints with the Red Wings, from 1965-67 and again from 1974-77. During the 1975-76 season, he led the Wings with 322 penalty minutes.
In 1973-74, Watson was among the first players in NHL history to collect 20 fighting majors in a season. Not inhibited by his 5-foot-9, 175-pound stature, Watson took on all of the NHL’s heavyweights – John Ferguson, Reg Fleming, Keith Magnuson, Terry O’Reilly, Steve Durbano, Nick Fotiu and Tiger Williams. Bugsy’s role as a superpest also meant that Watson was able to coax the NHL’s best into dropping their gloves. His NHL fight card also includes bouts with superstars like Hull, Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Denis Potvin and Darryl Sittler.
During the 1970s, only Dave (The Hammer) Schultz (2,292) accumulated more penalty minutes that Watson (1,779) among NHL players.
“I want to win and if I have to shove my fist through a guy to do it, then that’s what ‘ll do,” Watson told Canadian Press.
Although he only led the NHL in PIM once, sitting out 212 minutes with the 1971-72 Pittsburgh Penguins, Watson retired in 1979 as the NHL’s all-time penalty minute leader with 2,212 in 878 games. He’d supplanted Red Wings legend Ted Lindsay as the NHL career leader in PIM.