It's been no sweat for Jordan Watt to get back in the Ottawa Gee-Gees net after spending two winters mostly buried in law school textbooks -- compared to what else the goalie has faced in his twenty-seven years.
"My body's not the same as it was when I was 19, let me tell you," Canadian university hockey's ultimate veteran netminder joked after making 31 saves to help the Gee-Gees extend their late-season surge -- five wins in six games with one left before the playoffs -- with a 6-2 rout of the No. 9-ranked McGill Redmen at a noisy U of O Sports Complex last night.
Gee-Gees coach Dave Leger describes Watt as coming from a "faraway place." He's not alluding to age, or Watt's hometown of North Delta, B.C.
Picture a 14-year-old kid, parents split up. His mother dies and he is taken in by his grandparents. A lot of kids would become angry at the world -- but not Watt.
"Obviously losing a parent is tough when you're young," the future lawyer says. "I think it also makes you stronger as you grow up. You're better able to deal with bad things that happen. In the long run, it's made me stronger."
Fourteen is around the time a lot of boys burn out on hockey. At 14, Watt started playing hockey after those grandparents, Don and Jean McGourlick of Comox, B.C. -- "without their emotional and the financial support I wouldn't be here today," he says -- bought him his first set of goaltending equipment. He went from house league to the Western Hockey League, successfully walking on at the Kelowna Rockets' training camp at age 18 in 1997. Since 2000, he's been part of the Gee-Gees, playing four seasons before serving as goaltending coach while he juggled the difficult first two years of law school.
"He's had a lot of reasons to have given up," is how Leger puts it. "He's a fighter. He battles on every puck. He doesn't lose many one-on-one battles in front of his net. He never quits on a play."
Leger, who notes Watt has "seen the gamut" in his years with the Gee-Gees, gives him a lot of credit for making the switch from coaching to playing goal again.
"He had to earn his teammates' trust and respect there," Leger says. "There's a certain line where you can't really have a coach come inside that room. He was very good about that when he was a coach."
Watt's most important contribution to Gee-Gees hockey may be setting up the Watter-Rees Foundation. The group works with the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa, bringing kids to home games. Last night, you could see more than a few youngers scampering around the arena having the times of their lives.
"In between the second and third periods they'll go up to the Zam Pub (a restaurant which overlooks the ice surface) for pizza and pop and then they'll come down to the dressing room and meet the guys after the game," Watt says. "And then a few of us will go over to the Boys and Girls club and talk to the kids. It's been awesome experience for them and us.
"They (the club) works with a lot of lower-income families. I just hoped they would really value the chance to come out and see a hockey game and meet the guys. All we're trying to do is be a role model and show them that if you work hard and stay in school, you can accomplish anything."
It's clear helping kids find a way is near and dear to Watt, who says he skirted trouble as a teen: "At 19 or 20, I wasn't thinking the same as I was now. I did turn my life around. I decided to get an education and stay away from alcohol and drugs. It's done wonders for me."
It's also reunited him with his dad, Alexander P. Watt, an attorney based in Kamloops, B.C. Jordan spent the past three summers working at his dad's firm. On May 1, he'll begin articling at a firm in Victoria, preparing to practise criminal defence -- his father's area. It's tempting to write, "Like father, like son," but by now it's clear there's nothing cliché about this hockey story.
"Like any kid, you go through your ups and downs," Jordan Watt says. "I just tried to make sure I had a lot of ups."
GEE-GEES 6, REDMEN 2
Ben McLeod's two goals and a tip-in by Pierre-André LeBlanc put the Gee-Gees (10-12-3-2) ahead 3-0 after one. McGill's Eric L'Italien scores a pair of power-play tallies in the second, before rookie defenceman Jean-Claude Milot's first CIS goal on a screen shot from the point 51 seconds into the third blows it open. The Gee-Gees later tack on power-play goals from Kéven Gagné (three points on the night) and Kevin Glode. Gatineau native Mathieu Poitras made 26 saves for McGill (15-7-3-1), who will face the OUA East's sixth-seeded team a quarter-final series next week.
"This was like a playoff game for us," Leger said. "Our playoffs are (best) two out of three, so they don't leave much room for error. The habits tonight that you saw will hopefully continue into the playoffs."
The Gee-Gees will have home-ice advantage for next week's first-round playoff series against either Concordia (whom they visit Sunday to wrap up the regular season), Queen's or RMC. Ottawa is flying under the radar screen thanks to a poor start to the season, but that's the way Leger likes it.
"As much as we have a player (McLeod) who is second in Canada in scoring, we really hope to be a faceless, nameless team. We think that at this level, that’s a true recipe to win."
Jordan Watt profile (hockeyDB.com), Gee-Gee hockey.com
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