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NLL Hall of Fame goaltender Watson leaving at perfect time

The Canadian Press

9/20/2011 10:35:14 PM

TORONTO -- Bob Watson's timing has been perfect.

The Toronto Rock goaltender said that 2011 would be his last National Lacrosse League season so he ended his 15-year pro career in spectacular fashion by earning championship game MVP honours last May. He could not have planned his exit better.

Now, with the NLL having lost Boston to leave nine teams for 2012 when there were 13 teams just four years ago, Watson is content that he chose the right time to pack it in because the offensive firepower being jammed into each lineup is going to give goalies nightmares.

"It's definitely only going to get harder for the goaltenders," Watson said in an interview following his induction into the NLL Hall of Fame on Tuesday night. "I'm hearing they're going to be implementing new goalie restrictions, too -- tighter sweaters -- so, for me, it's a good time to be getting out."

There were accolades galore for the 41-year-old resident of Guelph, Ont.

"He's been a true ambassador for the game of lacrosse," said road roommate Colin Doyle, the Rock captain.

Doyle, who presented his good friend for induction, said Watson's 16-4 playoff win-loss record was truly amazing.

"What makes Bob stand out is how well he played when it mattered most," said Doyle.

Toronto won NLL titles in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2011 with Watson between the pipes. No other goalie has won as many titles. He was MVP of the 2003 and 2011 title games.

He refers to his 46-save effort last May in an 8-7 win over the Washington Stealth as his best all-time performance, and his 40-save 2003 triumph, 8-6 over the Knighthawks in Rochester, N.Y., as his other favourite title game memory. No other goalie in NLL championship game history allowed fewer goals against than Watson did in those two finals.

The only other goalies in the NLL Hall of Fame are Dallas Eliuk, originally from Vancouver, and American Sal LoCascio.

"It's an honour," he said after his plaque was unveiled. "It's an absolute honour.

"I know it's a cliche but the Hall of Fame is a small group, just 16 guys including a couple of former teammates, so I'm very proud to be a part of it."

Watson became a Kitchener-Waterloo police officer last year and has opted to concentrate completely on his new profession.

Watson is a modest superstar. He prefers that teammates get most of the credit after wins but he insists on shouldering blame after losses even when he plays well.

"This game has meant a lot to me," he said. "I've given it everything I'd had and enjoyed every minute of it."

Hall of Famers Jim Veltman and Paul Gait were among those on hand to welcome Watson into the select circle.

"Bob was the coolest goaltender I ever met," said Veltman, the former Rock captain. "You always wondered before the game whether he was really into the game or not.

"It didn't look like he was nervous. He never looked uptight or anything like that. Then, all of a sudden, you'd get on the floor and you'd go, 'Man, this guy is a professional. This game was meant for him.'

"He was a true professional in the way he handled his emotions. In some of the biggest games ever, in some of the games where we were underdogs like you wouldn't believe, we'd get goaltending from Bob Watson that tipped the scales in our favour."

Even after the Rock earned the dynasty tag for winning five NLL titles in seven years through 2005, the players knew that it was Watson who "anchored that through all those years."

It was always difficult trying to score on Watson, said Gait.

"I had to make adjustments if I wanted to have any kind of luck against him so every time I faced him I had to think about how I could adjust my shot, adjust my game, how I was going to shoot differently, take into account what was working for Bob . . . and any time you get a goalie who dictates how you're going to play, that makes it difficult on the shooter. With most goalies, they have to adjust to your style. For me, it was never that way with Bob."

Rock defenceman Sandy Chapman said he benefited by having Watson as a teammate when he broke into the league.

"He's such a great person, such a great mentor," Chapman said. "He showed us how to be a real professional athlete.

"On the floor, like everybody says, he was always at his best when it mattered most. He bailed us out time and time again. He's been a great goalie."

Said coach Troy Cordingley: "Bob has been the backbone of the franchise for the last 10 years. He's been a class act on and off the floor."

Added teammate Blaine Manning: "He never got rattled. He's the best that ever played."

In his induction speech, Watson highlighted the friendships he built with teammates such as Doyle, the thrill he had in playing on the last pro sports team to call Maple Leaf Gardens home, the appreciation he had for Rock owners who developed a winning tradition, and the impact coaches -- Les Bartley and Terry Sanderson in particular -- had on his development.

"Being part of a team, being one of the boys, has meant so much to me and it's something I'm going to miss," he said. "It was a hell of a ride. I had a blast. I wouldn't change a thing."