Toronto – Today Bob Watson made it official. The 2011 season will be his last in the National Lacrosse League as the Toronto Rock legendary goaltender and future Hall of Famer will hang up the pads at the end of the current campaign.
“We were very happy that Bob decided to come back for this season,” said Rock Owner and President Jamie Dawick. “Everyone in the organization wants to send him out on top and we know Bob has one goal this season, and that’s winning a championship.”
Despite not showing any signs of slowing down and being on a path to perhaps his best statistical season of his career, “Whipper” had decided long ago that this would be his last dance in pro lacrosse regardless of how the season was going. Family and work commitments at his new job with the Waterloo Regional Police being two key factors in the decision making process.
“We decided as a family before the season began that this would be my last season,” said Watson. “We had a discussion and the timing was right. With two very active kids, a new job and my desire to leave the game playing at a high level it’s the right time.”
The Toronto Rock has known only one starting goaltender throughout the 13-year history of the franchise. Before playing for the Rock, Watson began his career with the Baltimore Thunder in 1996 and then moved on to the Ontario Raiders in 1998. One-year later, the Raiders morphed into the franchise we know today as the Toronto Rock and the rest, as they say, is history.
The days at Maple Leaf Gardens were very special to the veteran goaltender and he remembers one experience fondly. It came after what ended up being the final event ever at the historic building.
“It was the day after winning the 2000 Championship Game and we got the opportunity to skate on the ice,” remembered Watson. “My son was born a few days prior to the championship game, so my post-game celebrating had it’s limits and I was the first one to arrive at the Gardens. I was there all by myself, laying at centre ice just enjoying my final moments in that building.”
With this season being his last in the National Lacrosse League, Watson has been sure to soak in everything this season, even more so than in past years.
“Every time I leave an opposition’s building I realize this is probably the last time there,” said Watson. “I just try and take a few extra minutes to soak in a little extra before I leave the floor knowing that every time out now is the last time.”
With the success on the floor to this point in the season, you often hear Watson’s name mentioned in MVP conversations. That’s quickly followed by head scratching as to how a guy can be an MVP candidate and then retire.
“I’ve had no second thoughts,” said Watson. “The goal this year was to give it everything I have and really enjoy the season and work towards winning another Champion’s Cup.”
GM Terry Sanderson will have the daunting task of finding a successor to Watson as the number one guy in goal, a chore that none of his predecessors have been previously faced with.
“I don’t think you’re going to replace Bob Watson,” explains Sanderson. “I don’t think anyone can come in and duplicate what he has done or what he has meant to this franchise. When any GM is putting a team together, he looks for good people which make good players and that’s got Bob Watson written all over it.”
Head Coach Troy Cordingley has also said numerous times that there’s only one “Whipper” and that in his mind, there is no debate about who the best goaltender of all-time truly is.
“He’s been the backbone of this organization for so many years and he’s the best goaltender to ever play the game,” expressed Cordingley. “We’re very fortunate to have him for the rest of this season and it’s going to be very difficult to replace him.”
Five Championships, two Goaltender of the Year Awards and one Champion’s Cup Final Game MVP Award. Team accomplishments and individual accolades, but what stands out as the greatest memory Watson will take away from his 15-year pro career?
“I’ve played with some great players and great guys,” responded Watson. “The 2003 championship win in Rochester, it turned out to be Les (Bartley’s) last one behind the bench, was pretty special. To win it down there as well, makes it a memory I’ll cherish.”
As a part of “Whipper’s” final regular season home game on Friday, April 8th, the Rock will honour Watson with an on-floor ceremony. The first 10,000 fans in attendance will receive a Watson paper goaltender’s mask and the first 3,000 fans entering Air Canada Centre will get a limited edition Bob Watson trading card.
This Friday when the Rock face the Roughnecks in Calgary, Watson will need to make just 7 saves to pass Dallas Eliuk and move into second place on the all-time career saves list. Another accomplishment that will further cement his legacy as one of the greatest ever.
The Rock have officially clinched a playoff spot in the 2011 NLL post-season, one step closer to sending Watson out on top.
For tickets to either of Toronto’s final two regular season home games on April 1 vs Washington or April 8 vs Buffalo, contact the Toronto Rock office at 416-596-3075 or log on to www.torontorock.com.