How Detroit Red Wings' Bryan 'Bugsy' Watson thwarted legendary scorer Bobby Hull

·4 min read

Bobby Hull is remembered as a legendary goal scorer, but there was one Detroit Red Wings player — and not one of the famous ones — who took great delight in thwarting him.

Hull, who died Monday at 84 years old, was one of the most renown and feared scorers in the NHL in the 1960s. Hull, the father of former Wings forward Brett Hull, scored 50 goals for the Chicago Black Hawks in 1961-62, and bettered that with 54 goals, then an NHL record, in 1965-66. That was the season the Wings met their Original Six rival in the semifinals. That they won the series, 4-2, was credit, in part, to utility defenseman Bryan Watson, who shut down Hull, nicknamed "The Golden Jet."

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Archived photo of former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Bryan Watson.
Archived photo of former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Bryan Watson.

The previous spring, Hull scored eight goals to help the Black Hawks oust the Wings in a seven-game, first-round series.

Wings coach Sid Abel assigned forward Paul Henderson to shadow Hull in the first game in 1966, but Hull had the last laugh, scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 victory. So Abel turned to a 23-year-old who was 25 pounds lighter than Hull.

"When I played in Montreal, I saw how well Claude Provost had shadowed Bobby, and I had done it myself once with the Canadiens," Watson told the Free Press in 2002. Watson passed away July 8, 2021, age 78.

Watson had joined the Wings the previous summer. Gordie Howe was among new teammates who took to calling Watson by the nickname, "Bugsy."

Another teammate Bill Gadsby, recalled in 2002 what Abel said to Watson: "Sid told Bugsy, 'if Bobby Hull goes to the concession stand, you go with him and put the sugar in his coffee.'"

In Game 2, the first nationally televised NHL game in the United States, the Wings demolished the Hawks, 7-0, at Chicago Stadium. Watson had succeeded — and continued to do so the rest of the series. Wherever Hull was on the ice, there was Watson, keeping pace and hacking away at every opportunity.

"I was awful to him, and I drove him nuts," Watson said. "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."

The Wings lost Game 3, 2-1, but Watson celebrated his second goal of the series in Game 4, earning a thunderous ovation from the fans at Olympia Stadium. He was greeted with chants of "We want Watson" as the Wings won, 5-1. Asked if Watson bothered him, Hull was nonchalant, replying, "When he scores goals, he does."

Two games later, the Wings celebrated the end of the series. They lost to the Canadiens in six games in the Stanley Cup Final, and did not make it back to the Final again until 1995.

Officials penalized Watson seven times for infractions against Hull, and Hull's only two goals of the series came while Watson was not on the ice. Both of Watson's goals came while Hull was on the ice.

"Bryan did a hell of a job on Hull every game we played, but he paid the price," Gadsby said in 2002. "I remember Bugsy's belly was all marked up with spear jobs, and his chest and ribs had welts all over because Bobby didn't like what he was doing."

Bobby Hull never forgave Watson for shutting him down. At an old-timers hockey game years later, Watson, at the behest of Ted Lindsay, skated over to Hull. "When Bobby saw me coming over, his big smile went to gloom and doom," Watson said. "I grabbed his stick so he couldn't skate, and with that, he ripped it out of my hand and jumped over the boards, taking off his skates. I said to Teddy, 'holy Jesus, you see what I mean?'"

It was a fitting epitaph to Watson's remembrance of going up against the Golden Jet in the 1966 playoffs: "I know I had a lot more fun that Bobby did."

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Red Wings' Bryan Watson thwarted legendary scorer Bobby Hull