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  • Preds prospect Watson shaped by family values Print
    Futures Watch
    Written by Dan Marrazza   
    Saturday, 10 November 2012 02:08

    Every fourth November, one of the focal points of the election seems to be the buzz phrase "family values." For Austin Watson, however, the phrase is much more than a cliché. For Watson, the phrase is part of the solid foundation that has him looking like yet another solid up-and-coming, homegrown prospect for the Nashville Predators.

    Two decades ago, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson grew up on Full House and became famous.

    This season, after growing up in a full house, Nashville Predators prospect Austin Watson is starting his professional career with the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals and looking to become famous in the hockey world.

    But Watson, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound center who was Nashville’s first-round draft choice in 2010, is actually a product of a lot “fuller” of a house than the Tanners’ San Francisco homestead; Watson, 20, is the oldest of 10 siblings with ages ranging from toddlers to teenagers.

    “Mikey, RJ, Ben, Kolbe, Nate, Christian, Maggie, Matthew and Joseph,” reeled off Watson, with a smile.

    “We are a big family,” added Watson. “Growing up as the oldest in that environment gave me responsibilities that I think have shaped who I am. The responsibility is to try to take care of yourself and do whatever anybody else needs from you. I think we all have always helped each other out with everything, which is nice.”

    With no other siblings who play hockey, most of the career support that Watson gets from his family is moral support. This was never more apparent than when he was playing for the Ontario Hockey League champion London Knights in the Memorial Cup last spring.

    “When I was in juniors, they’d just drive on up to see me,” said Watson. “It’s kind of hard for us to get everybody on a plane. But my parents have a van that everybody fits in…A big van.”

    At the 2012 Memorial Cup, no member of the traveling clan of Watsons was more visible than Austin’s mother, Mary.

    Watson’s mother found herself thrust under the microscope of the social media world as a result of her incredibly persistent tweets of support for her son, her candid pictures of her sizable family in its entirety and because of how forthright she was with her family’s staunch Catholic beliefs.

    “I’m not on Twitter, so I try not to pay too much attention to what goes on there,” said
    Watson. “Everybody has their own way of doing things and if my mother wants to be on there, that’s her choice. It’s not something that really embarrasses me.”

    In a society where almost every 20-year-old is embarrassed by something that their parents do, Watson is a breath of fresh air in that he doesn’t at all hide from who he is, while not seeking extra attention for it, either.

    Watson is equally mature in his approach towards being a religious athlete, which, in a sports world where Tim Tebow is known as much for his beliefs as his on-the-field performance, is another indication of how comfortable the 20-year-old is in his own skin.

    “Everyone has their own personal lives,” said Watson. “Growing up Catholic, I think I have a decent relationship (with God.) There are always some things I can be better at and I’m always trying to grow. But we have a lot of character guys here (in Nashville’s organization), religious and not.”

    Although Watson is tolerant of others who have different beliefs than he does, there is one thing that he doesn’t have tolerance for—failure.

    At the age of 12, Watson moved in with his grandparents to continue to pursue his hockey career while his parents and siblings were forced to leave their native MichiganAustin Watson and its difficult economy to live in Florida. Since then, he has shown tremendous dedication to his pursuit of a hockey career, even when it meant separation from his massively supportive immediate family during his pre-teen years.

    Although Watson admits that his childhood choice was difficult, it seems to be paying dividends now.

    He finished a very successful junior career last spring and is now playing with the Milwaukee Admirals – a team whose developmental success has been one of the major reasons that the Nashville Predators have had such success using primarily homegrown players to contend for Stanley Cups over the last six years.

    “They (Nashville) run Milwaukee as if it was an NHL team” said first-year Admirals head coach Dean Evason. “We have the same system here that they have up there. It’s an aggressive, up-tempo game where we apply pressure to take time and space away.

    “Milwaukee is the right type of environment to help make a player successful,” added Evason. “It starts with Nashville and their management there, with how they conduct themselves in not only treating their players right, but also their coaches and front office personnel. It’s a good system to develop in.”

    As a rookie, Watson’s current developmental stage is in being a “utility” man with the Admirals. He spends most of his time centering Kevin Henderson and Mark Van Guilder on the team’s third line, occasionally getting bumped up to play on one of Milwaukee’s top two lines.

    “I would hope that he can play in that same (centering a first or second line) role in the NHL, someday,” added Evason. “We’ll see how his development goes. Any time you can get guys who are that big who can move that well and play center ice, it’s a real positive thing, though.”

    Given the Predators’ established blueprint of not rushing prospects and effectively utilizing their AHL affiliate, Watson should get at least a season or two in Milwaukee before getting the chance to be called up to Nashville.

    However, whenever Watson gets his first NHL call up, it can be expected that the family van won’t be that far behind him.

    Watson’s progression with the Admirals can be followed on Twitter at @mkeadmirals.

    In the meantime, Watson’s mother’s perspective on her son’s development can be followed on Twitter at @momwats10.
    Photos by Getty Images



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    Last Updated on Sunday, 11 November 2012 18:12