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Longtime NHL vet ‘Bugsy’ Watson dies at 78

Former NHL defenseman Bryan “Bugsy” Watson, who played for Scotty Bowman and with Doug Harvey and coached Wayne Gretzky, has died. He was 78.

A Washington Capitals spokesperson said Friday that Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the team, learned of his death Thursday from a member of Watson’s family. A Pittsburgh Penguins spokesperson said the team was told Watson died at his home in St. Michaels, Maryland. The cause of death was not revealed.

Watson played 877 regular-season games in the NHL for Montreal, Detroit, Oakland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Washington from 1963 to 1978 before finishing his on-ice career with Cincinnati in the World Hockey Association in 1979.

Watson played junior hockey under Bowman, who holds the record for the most Stanley Cup titles, with Peterborough. He was paired with Hall of Famer Harvey with the American Hockey League’s Quebec Aces during his second pro season and later coached a young Gretzky.

The Pittsburgh Penguins Alumni Association called Watson a fan favorite known for his feisty play. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Watson led the league with 215 penalty minutes during the 1971-72 season during an era of hockey in which line brawls and fighting were prevalent.

Watson was the Edmonton Oilers‘ first coach for their inaugural NHL season in 1980 after moving over from the WHA. General manager Glen Sather replaced Watson after the team opened 4-9-5.

Although he played only 155 regular-season games for the Capitals, Watson is known well in the Washington area. He and his wife, Lindy, opened a pizza restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1983 that they renamed Bugsy’s in 1998 and sold in 2013.

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