Wednesday, July 30, 2014
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Plenty more to say about Danny Watkins

Maybe you thought 2,800 or so words in today's Daily News about Eagles draftee Danny Watkins and the Kelowna, British Columbia, area was enough to last you

Plenty more to say about Danny Watkins

Danny Watkins (center) with firefighter Richard Bwiss (left) and Captain Lionel Bateman of the West Kelowna, British Columbia, fire unit (Photo by Capt. Lionel Bateman)
Danny Watkins (center) with firefighter Richard Bwiss (left) and Captain Lionel Bateman of the West Kelowna, British Columbia, fire unit (Photo by Capt. Lionel Bateman)

Maybe you thought 2,800 or so words in today’s Daily News about Eagles draftee Danny Watkins and the Kelowna, British Columbia, area was enough to last you.

Ha.

I have plenty more to say.

Seriously, I thought it might be fun to offer some observations and outtakes from the kind of extended trip (and story) beat writers don’t get to do very often. Just because I couldn’t fit it into the piece doesn’t mean it isn’t scintillating.

***

Danny Watkins’ friends really liked the fact that when he visited after the draft, everything wasn’t about the celebrities he’d met and the fantastic things he was doing.

“For a guy who’s been through what almost no one in real life has been through, you’d think he’d have lots to say, but he’s so down to earth, when he comes back he’ll be quick to say, ‘how was your fire last night?’ – he’s as interested in what’s going on here as we are in what’s going on in his life,” said Station 31 fire captain Bob Peters. “None of this stuff has gone to his head … He’s happy, he’s genuine, and happy to share it with everybody, too, without rubbing it in anybody’s face.”

***

Danny did a lot of public-works-type jobs in the Kelowna area, in addition to firefighting. One of them involved working on all the fire hydrants in the area. Then, when there were fires, he recalled, he could impress his friends with “the fire hydrant is behind this bush, beside this rock.” The job he liked least was driving the snowplow, though he gained renown for being the only guy who could fit the blade on the truck without assistance. “White-knuckle driving for 12 hours,” Watkins said. “It’s terrible.”

***

The place is just amazing, abounding with postcard views of snow-capped mountains above a lake.

“People generally that grew up here stay here,” Peters said. “People that move here don’t move away, unless they have to, for their job or something.”

Kelowna means “Grizzly Bear” in Okanagan, and bears are pretty common. Vicki Watkins-Rigden, Danny’s mom, recalls a visit from one when someone accidently left food out on the porch overnight.

I didn’t have time to take a winery tour, but I did get to sample some of the local wares. Very impressive.

If you ever go to one of Canada’s premier vacation spots, I wouldn’t recommend the route I took – connecting through Phoenix to Vancouver, then driving. My kilometer-to-mile conversion skills were rusty, since I’ve been off the hockey beat nearly a decade now. Turns out the drive is four hours through the mountains. Pretty drive, though. But you can fly into Kelowna from Vancouver, and other Western cities.

***

Danny Watkins, enrolled in summer school at Baylor, wasn’t in Kelowna while I was there. We spoke by phone. In fact, Danny’s dad, Todd, frets half-jokingly that his son “is a Texas boy now, doesn’t like snow and ice.” Danny acknowledges there is a little truth to that.

***

Finally, I’d felt kind of odd going there, because I’d encountered Kelowna in only one previous context – the horrific death of Flyers defenseman Dmitri Tertyshny in a boating accident on the Okanagan Lake, July 23, 1999. I didn’t go to Kelowna then, but I did several phone interviews, and got a sense of the place – as an incongrous setting for tragedy.

Even though it had absolutely nothing to do with Danny Watkins, over the 4 1/2 days I interviewed Watkins’ friends and family members, I thought about the skinny defenseman nicknamed “Tree” every time I crossed the lake, and especially when I snapped pictures of the harbor and marina where teammates Francis Belanger and Mikhail Chernov frantically sped to try to get medical help for their friend, who bled to death from injuries suffered when he fell from the boat and was run over by the propeller.

I hope Dmitri’s wife and son are doing well, and that they know he isn’t forgotten here.

Les Bowen Daily News Staff Writer
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