It’s fitting that a sixth-grade history teacher who loves hockey found a piece of hockey history.
At a thrift store. In basketball-mad North Carolina. That’s what makes Chris Brindell-Watt’s story so compelling.
Brindell-Watt, 49, has taught history and social studies at Cane Creek Middle School in Fletcher, North Carolina, for the past 12 years. He’s originally from Pennsylvania and grew up a big fan of the Flyers — and for that matter, any Philadelphia-based team.
He was young when the Flyers’ “Broad Street Bullies” won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles during the mid-1970s, but his uncles were big fans of the team and Brindell-Watt knew the players. So, imagine his surprise that morning in January 2018 when he walked into a thrift shop off U.S. 25 in Fletcher and saw an old hockey stick that was signed by Hall of Fame goalie Bernie Parent.
“I see this retail shop twice a day when I drive to and from school,” Brindell-Watt said. “One booth has sports memorabilia, mostly regional stuff, like garbage cans of local teams like UNC or Duke.
“So, I see a Sher-Wood stick for $14, and the (price) tag says, ‘autograph unknown,’” said Brindell-Watt, who immediately recognized Parent’s signature on the tape that wrapped the stick, and the goalie’s name and his number (No. 1) stenciled in black on the stick itself. “Unknown to you guys, maybe, but not to me. I nearly fainted.”
Brindell-Watt quickly paid for the stick (“I kept a straight face when I bought it”) and marveled at the piece of history he now owned. There was a date stamped on the stick “Auot 25, 1975”— and since Auot is a French word for August, it looks like a practice or game-used stick Parent may have used more than 40 years ago. Parent suffered a back injury and missed much of the 1975-76 season, and Wayne Stephenson stepped in to replace him. The Flyers returned to the Stanley Cup Finals for the third consecutive season but were swept by the Montreal Canadiens.
As an adult, Brindell-Watt served six years in the U.S. Army as an optician and spent time in Germany; San Antonio; Aurora, Colorado; and Columbia, South Carolina. He and his wife Maggie will be married 18 years on May 13, and their son Nolan is 9.
Brindell-Watt said Nolan is not the same type of sports fanatic that he was as a child. “He’s really into stories, Lego Creators and that kind of thing,” he said.
Maggie is a hockey fan, Brindell-Watt said, “only because I am.”
So, what would a Parent hockey stick be worth? Brindell-Watt isn’t sure, but he said one memorabilia dealer in Florida told him “he could get $500” for it and another Parent gamer from the mid-70s sold for $1,135 in 2015.
But Brindell-Watt does not intend to sell the stick. He grew up in Willow Grove, north of Philadelphia, and played street hockey as a kid. As a youth he rooted for the Flyers, Eagles, 76ers and Phillies, and still does. Naturally, he is reveling in the Eagles’ recent victory in Super Bowl LII, and just this week celebrated as another Philadelphia-based team —Villanova — won the NCAA men’s basketball championship.
Having a stick owned by a Philadelphia legend reminds him of the days he would go to the Spectrum with his father to watch the Flyers.
“To see a Sher-Wood stick, well, that’s awesome,” he said. “I thought, ‘What a great piece of wood, you can see the puck marks on them.’’
After he bought it, Brindell-Watt said he “nearly cried” as he called family and friends back in Pennsylvania to share his find.
“They all said, “My gosh, you’re kidding,’” he said.
The oddest part about finding the stick was its location. Fletcher is located halfway between Hendersonville and Asheville in western North Carolina, and the nearest NHL team is in Raleigh, where the Carolina Hurricanes play.
“If this had been found in Philly, it would have been pegged, shelved and put in a glass case,” Brindell-Watt said.
Parent just turned 73 on April 3. The Montreal native began his career with the Boston Bruins in 1965 but was picked first in the expansion draft by Philadelphia in 1967. He was later traded to Toronto and became the first NHL star to sign with the World Hockey Association — he was signed by the Miami Screaming Eagles, which ironically relocated to Philadelphia before they could play a game when the team could not secure an arena in South Florida. After not being paid by the Philadelphia Blazers, Parent bolted across town to return to the Flyers in time for their greatest stretch of glory.
During the Flyers’ two Stanley Cup championship seasons, Parent won the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Vezina Trophy both years. His career was cut short in 1979 when he suffered an eye injury, but he became the first member of the Flyers to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame when he was enshrined in 1984. He’s also a charter member of the Flyers Hall of Fame and had his No. 1 retired by the team.
The last time Brindell-Watt watched the Flyers in person was “in the late ’90s” when Philadelphia played at Carolina. For his 50th birthday on June 12, he wants to see the Flyers again, either in Raleigh against the Hurricanes or in Nashville, Tennessee, against the Predators.
But for now, finding a Parent stick “was a great pre-present.”
As a history teacher, Brindell-Watt is aware of the adage that history repeats itself. He’s hoping to find more memorabilia someday.
“I called the thrift shop and told the guy, ‘any time you find anything good like that, give me a call.’”