The importance of a role player rising to the occasion in the Stanley Cup playoffs was never more evident than in the 1966 semifinal series between the Red Wings and Chicago when a 23 year old utility defenseman for Detroit was assigned to “shadow” Bobby Hull who that season shattered the 50 goal barrier with a frightening banana blade slap shot.
In attempt to slow down Hull, Red Wing coach Sid Abel told defenseman Bryan Watson that his role was to “shadow” the Black Hawk great throughout the series.
And did he ever.
In the first ever nationally televised NHL game in the United States, the Wings annihilated Hull and the Hawks 7-0 in game 2 of the series at Chicago Stadium as Watson began his persistent pestering of the Golden Jet that lasted the rest of the series.
As Hull would begin his patented circle to gain skating momentum, Watson would skate small circles inside, hacking away at Hull at every opportunity. “I was awful to him and I drove him nuts,” Watson told me for a Detroit Free Press article a few years ago. “I jammed the lanes so he could not do his big windup with the puck. I can’t tell you the things I said to him. I was never afraid of Bobby,” he said.
When the series moved to Olympia Stadium for game three, Watson, by now a fan favorite, was indoctrinated into the tradition of Red Wings playoff hockey after he scored a goal in the 2 to 1 loss to Chicago that included 2 penalties each to Hull and Watson for penalties committed against each other.
“I’ll never forget that goal, because after I scored, this slimy thing went flying over my shoulder and it scared the hell out of me,” Watson said. “After the game, this guy who had seen the look on my face introduced himself as Fritz Cusimano and he told me how the octopus tradition had started way back with his family’s fish market.”
Watson added further insult to injury for Hull in the Wing’s 5-1 triumph in game 4 when his second goal of the series was followed by a thunderous ovation by a delirious Olympia crowd that had been roaring throughout the game during the Hull and Watson war. A chorus of “We want Watson” echoed throughout the old red barn. Afterwards, when Hull was asked if Watson was beginning to bother him, Hull quipped, “when he scores goals he does.”
With victories in games five and six, the upstart Wings eliminated the Blackhawks and headed to the Finals against Montreal thanks largely to the antics of Bryan Watson in shutting down Bobby Hull. (In the last Stanley Cup Final game at Olympia Stadium, the Canadiens won the Cup in the sixth game on a controversial overtime goal by Henri Richard.)
When the bell rang to end the Watson-Hull match, Bugsy came out on top.
For the semifinal series, Watson was banished seven times for infractions against Hull while Hull was penalized five times for misdeeds against Watson. The Golden Jet scored only twice, both times when Watson was on the bench. Bugsy’s two goals, which matched his regular season output, occurred with Hull on the ice.
One reply on “Red Wing Bryan Watson and the 1966 Stanley Cup Semi-Finals“
Bryan Watson spoke up after game 1 when Hull had his way against Detroit. He told Sid Able, WIngs coach, that he covered Hull when with Montreal and he could do it against Hull while with the Wings. Gordie Howe was in on the conversation and said “lets do it” and Watson had the series of his life afterwards. Hull cut Watson badly the next year with a high stick and it was ugly. Somehow, the battle between those two seemed to end as Watson did not stick with Detroit while Hull continued to tear up the league with goals.
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