In 1997, goaltender Stevie Lyle tried to make it in North America. It didn’t work. In 2003, another of Britain’s young goalies will try his hand in North America, Joe Watkins. Why will it be different for him?
Lyle was only 18 and trying to break onto the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL with Robert Esche occupying the crease. Homesick and suffering from waning confidence Lyle became the third import and was cut after playing only six games. Rather than drop down to Junior A, he returned home.
Joe Watkins is 23 and has been playing away from home since he was 16. He comes from the fabled Durham youth system and made his senior debut for Telford in 1996. He’s since played for Fife, Basingstoke and more recently Bracknell.
Despite being the back-up at Bracknell, Watkins played his way into the Great Britain team at the expense of Lyle.
Watkins now finds himself in California, ready to backstop the Bakersfield Condors in the ECHL. He will be the back-up goalie to Peter Hirsch, who played in the Swedish Elite League last season. Although Hirsch is pencilled in as the starting goalie, Watkins certainly can unseat him. Hirsch’s weaknesses are mainly consistency and skating, but he should be a very good ECHL goalie. So, however, should Watkins. This looks to be a very competitive tandem for Bakersfield. If Hirsch has a couple of bad games then Watkins could take over the No.1 position and run with it. He won’t likely be a back-up next season.
In his debut for Bakersfield on October 17th, Watkins was named the first star, making 37 saves against the Las Vegas Wranglers on 39 shots. The future is bright for Watkins. Although he may never play in the NHL, Watkins has a good career in front of him and should become one of the flag bearers for the new wave of British talent.
Sweden editor Johan Nilsson contributed to this report.
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