|Regina-born referee Brad Watson savours return to NHL final|
REGINA — Brad Watson’s return to the Stanley Cup final didn’t include a share of the spotlight — and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
The veteran referee enjoyed the opportunity to watch the Los Angeles Kings claim the glory while he performed his duties from the background, settling for the personal satisfaction of knowing he was among the best in his profession this season.
“I was quite excited to get the opportunity to get back in,” offered Watson, who hadn’t worked the Cup final since 2008 after a run of five straight. “I didn’t know if I was ever going to get another chance. I had a really good year, I felt, and it kind of paid off with the selection.”
Watson and partner Dan O’Halloran were awarded Games 1, 3 and 5 between the Kings and New Jersey Devils while Chris Rooney and Dan O’Rourke handled the other three contests. Those four men were selected from a pool of over 30 referees.
“As an official, some guys never get to work it,” noted Watson, a 51-year-old Regina product who now lives in Denver. “When you do get the opportunity, it’s an experience. You reached the pinnacle of your profession so you better enjoy it because nothing is guaranteed for next year.
“They tell us right at the start of training camp that it’s based on your work. The playoffs offer an opportunity to make some important calls and if you step up and make those it goes a long way toward pushing you on.”
Watson did just that, but it wasn’t easy to get there
“It was frustrating the last couple years,” he admitted. “I was in the third round and I thought I had made it last year. I didn’t. They chose not to use me and it kind of stung. I told myself, ‘This year I’ll just go out there and work my best but I really want to go out and enjoy it.’ This business is hard. Sometimes you put too much pressure on yourself and it’s not fun. It’s not like I have a ton of years left so I just want to make sure I make the most of them. This year kind of fell into place.”
In the end, Watson wasn’t allowed to drink from the Cup, but he and the other officials did get to do the next best thing, sharing a dressing room with Lord Stanley’s mug from Games 4 to 6.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “You have time to sit there and study it and get pictures with it. The players are just dying to win this thing. It means something to us too. It’s the only time we really get that close to it.”
Despite the high stakes involved in a Cup final, Watson didn’t feel nervous before the games and — in the end — was happy with the results. That said, he also felt fortunate to not be involved in the kind of series that’s conducive to putting referees in bad situations. The Kings and Devils were fairly cooperative in that regard, maintaining discipline and focusing on the task at hand.
“It’s a final that wasn’t marred in officiating controversy,” said Watson. “I’ve been part of it before, back in 2004 in the Calgary-Tampa series, where the headlines were the officiating crew and that’s taking away from the game. We’re a part of the game but we’re not the game. There’s a lot of emotion (in the playoffs). That’s the biggest thing at this stage. If you can control the emotion of the players and coaches and bring it down and they’re not focused on us, they’re going to play and they’ll decide the game.”
Watson has now worked six Stanley Cup finals, but he admits this one was special. That’s because he got to share it with his son Reid, who — at age seven — was old enough to share the experience when he attended Game 3.
“I told my wife, ‘If I ever get back to the finals I just want to do it because I want to get Reid to come see a game,’ ” Watson added. “He got to experience the atmosphere of the Stanley Cup final. He came down to the room, hung out with the guys. It was something very special for me, by far the most rewarding one I’ve ever done because I had to fight back to get it. I’m kind of one of the older guys on staff now. I just stuck it out and believed in myself and made it.
“I appreciated it more than any other year.”