One of the most special things about the sport of hockey is the lifelong friendships that the sport helps to create. Even when old friends and teammates go many years without seeing each other, the bonds reconnect quickly when the opportunity finally arises to get together again.
When Flyers Hall of Fame defenseman Joe Watson first met forward Garry Peters, they were teenagers playing for rival clubs in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) in the early 1960s. Watson manned the blueline for the Estevan Bruins. Peters, one year older than Watson, was a high-scoring center for the Regina Pats. The two teams duked it out for first place all season during Watson’s first year of junior hockey after being promoted from the North Battleford Beaver Bruins to Estevan.
“We had a playoff game in Regina, and things got pretty worked up,” Watson recalled. “At one point, a Regina fan threw a construction bolt at our bench, and hit our coach, Scotty Munro. They had some pretty tough players, too. What I remember about playing against Garry was that he was a smart and balanced player.”
The next year, due to several players aging out of junior hockey, Regina slipped in the standings while Munro’s Bruins remained on top. Estevan eventually went on to play the Edmonton Oil Kings for the Memorial Cup.
Peters, who graduated from junior to pro hockey a year ahead of Watson, broke into the minor leagues with the Omaha Knights, a Montreal Canadiens farm club in the Central Pro Hockey League (CPHL) in 1962-63. The next year, Watson broke into the same league with the Minneapolis Bruins. Eventually, after Minneapolis relocated to Oklahoma City as the Blazers, Watson became a full-time NHL player for Boston in 1966-67.
During Watson’s time in Boston, he played against Peters, who had stints in Montreal and with the New York Rangers. After the NHL expanded from six to 12 teams in 1967-68, both players joined the fledgling Philadelphia Flyers. For each of the first four seasons in Flyers history, they were teammates.
“Joe back then was pretty much the same as he is now,” Peters recalled. “He was very vocal, and he hated to lose. It was always better playing with him than against him, that I can tell you.”
Watson felt the same about Peters.
“Gary was a really good teammate, and a good friend, too. We knew each other a little bit from junior hockey, and we always got along really well. He was an unselfish player. He was a good scorer in junior hockey and the minor leagues but he played mostly a checking role in the NHL and he did it well. Our team in Philly wasn’t very good for most of our early years, but Gary played his role well. I enjoyed him as a teammate and considered him as one of my friends on our club. We had a good group of guys, but we weren’t ready to win yet.”
Peters remained with the Flyers through the 1970-71 season before moving on for a season to the Bruins organization.
“I mostly played in the American League [with the Boston Braves, posting 39 goals, 73 points and 118 penalty minutes in 54 games]. But I did get into a couple games with the Bruins,” Peters recalled. “After that, I gave the WHA (World Hockey Association) a try for a couple years.”
Peters played in the WHA for the New York Raiders in 1972-73. The next season, as Watson and the Flyers won the first of back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, Peters wrapped up his playing career with the WHA’s New York Golden Blades (also known as the Jersey Knights), playing their home games as the Knights in the old Cherry Hill Arena.
Peters was happy for the Flyers and for his former teammates such as Watson when they won the Cup. But he realized that it was time to go home to Saskatchewan. For many years, he has lived in Saskatoon.
“I don’t get back to Philadelphia very often, but I’ve come back for the reunions we’ve had for the 1967-68 team. Those were always fun, especially the big 50th reunion celebration in 2017. It was really nice not only to see the guys from our Flyers team but also to meet all of the fans and players from other Flyers teams over the years who came out. So that was a great time.”
Peters has remained close to the Flyers Alumni Association through the years, too. In 2020, during the Flyers Alumni’s annual 12 Days of Christmas giving campaign, Peters suggested that the Alumni make donation to the Saskatchewan chapter of KidSport; a charity that is near and dear to his heart. For many years, Peters served as an ambassador and fund-raising leader for the charity, which provides life-changing access to sports for children who might not otherwise be able to participate. The Flyers Alumni made a $1,500 contribution at Peters’ recommendation.
Recently, Peters had the opportunity to make his first trip back to Philadelphia since the 2017 Golden Anniversary reception. While in town, he attended a game at the Wells Fargo Center between the Flyers and the LA Kings. Peters sat next to his old friend and fellow inaugural Flyers teammate, Joe Watson. Watson, of course, has lived in the Philadelphia area ever since joining the Flyers in 1967. More than 60 years of shared history and friendship was in the house that Ed Snider’s Flyers built.
“No, I never thought back then that I’d still be living in Philadelphia all these years,” Watson said with a hearty chuckle. “But here I am. It’s great to see Gary here again.”