The Manitoba Junior Hockey League has proven to be a great training ground for individuals who want to pursue hockey to its highest levels.
That’s certainly been the case for many players and coaches throughout its history – names like Ed Belfour, Barry Trotz, Mike Ridley and Ryan Garbutt quickly come to mind.
But the MJHL has also proven to be a great training ground for support staff. And recently, MJHL alumni Graham “Spike” Watt ascended to the professional hockey ranks.
Watt spent several years in the early 2000s with the Swan Valley Stampeders, serving as both their trainer and equipment manager. From there he moved on to Saskatoon where he spent a decade helping the Blades in the Western Hockey League.
And this fall, Watt landed a job with the Manitoba Moose, the latest step in his impressive career.
“Someone in the Winnipeg Jets organization knew someone in the Saskatoon Blades organization, and made it known they were looking for staff, and I was lucky enough Saskatoon recommended me,” said Watt during a late morning Moose practice at the MTS IcePlex in Headingly. “Then after the interview process, it all worked out for the best.”
His official title is head equipment manager for the Manitoba Moose, and his work days vary – except for being long and busy.
“My job entails anything the players wear,” he said. “If it involves the equipment any of the players use, or that the coaches use – at the MTS Centre or here at the IcePlex – it’s under my umbrella.
“Our days are totally dependent on the schedule, whether we played the night before, or travelled the night before,” he added. “Basically we practice at the IcePlex in the mornings, and we take the equipment to the MTS Centre in the afternoon, play the game, and then return the equipment to the Iceplex after the game.”
Watt said they can be long days, with many details to look after, but it’s a great position and he’s doing what he loves.
Before joining the Moose Watt spend nearly a decade with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades. It was here that Watt really honed his craft, while also getting the chance to work some high-profile events in the process.
“The biggest highlight for me in Saskatoon as the people I met,” he said. “We had an outstanding organization with Brodsky family, and then with Mike Priestner, but it’s the people that I will remember most. And they helped me reach the next level, which I’ve been trying to do since I started in this business.”
Watt also had the chance to work the Memorial Cup, which Saskatoon hosted in 2013, as well as the Subway Series last year, which pits CHL all-stars against the Russian national junior team.
“That was a really cool event, and I got a chance to meet four players that would go on to play with the Moose,” said Watt.
And before his time in the WHL, Watt could be seen on the bench at the Centennial Arena in Swan River, where he really began his ascent up the hockey ranks.
“It was a great place to restart, you could say,” said Watt on his time with the Stampeders. “I met a lot of really great people, some really good players who I still keep in touch with.
“I just ran into Justin Falk a couple weekends ago with the Lake Erie Monsters,” he added, noting social media also helps him stay in touch with former players and coaches from the Stampeders. “I also see (former Stamps’ GM) Leonard (Strandberg) and (former Stamps’ head coach) Del (Pedrick) from time-to-time, as well as everyone from Swan River I bump into at the Iceplex.”
There was a time early in his career when Watt stepped in to lend a hand to a visiting team who had some equipment issues. He said it’s always good karma to lend a hand at the rink, as you never know when you yourself might be in need of some assistance.
“For example, recently we had a shoulder pad equipment problem in Chicago, and we can’t take all our equipment with us on the road, so I went over to the Chicago guys to ask if I could use their sewing machine, and they said ‘sure, go ahead’,” said Watt. “There’s lots of give and take like that, especially in a league where you primarily travel by air, and you’re restricted on what you can travel with.”
Watt said he does hope working for the Moose will lead him to his eventual dream of working in the NHL. But his immediate focus is on establishing himself with the Moose.
“The NHL would be the next logical progression, and we’re fortunate to work for the True North family and the Jets’ organization,” he said. “I think the Moose already run their organization like an NHL franchise, we have all the equipment, material and supplies we need to take care of our players.
“I was already fortunate enough to work a couple of NHL exhibition games, and got a little taste of it, and it’s pretty cool, but I’m happy where I am right now,” he added. “I’m happy to be a Moose and part of the Jets’ family.”