|Phil Housley totaled 1,232 points while playing for the Sabres, Jets, Blues, Flames, Devils, Capitals, Blackhawks and Maple Leafs.
Until Mike Modano scores seven more points, Housley is still the most prolific U.S.-born scorer in NHL history. The Minnesota-born defenseman put up 1,232 points in 1,495 games to get his name in the record books. But with Modano on the verge of passing him, Housley says it’s time to pass the torch.
“It’s come to this,” Housley told NHL.com. “You knew it was going to be broken. That’s what records are made for. But it was an honor to have the record for seven years, since 2000. It was quite an honor. Even after I retired, being able to say I retired as the highest American-born scorer, it was a pretty neat thing. But you have a lot of great hockey players in the U.S. Mike Modano and Jeremy Roenick – I thought he was going to come up – but Mike’s knocking on the door and it couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
Housley learned the game on the outdoor rinks back home, using the big ice surface to refine his skating and an offensive game rarely seen in defensemen.
“There wasn’t PlayStation back then,” Housley says. “You just went outside and played hockey, no matter what the temperature was. You went with your buddies, and I think that’s where youlearned a lot of the game.”
The number of points Housley put up was rare for a defenseman, but his ability on the ice was also rare for an American player at a time when the United States wasn’t considered a power in the sport.
“When I was coming into the League, there weren’t a lot of guys to choose from,” Housley says of his fellow countrymen. “We didn’t have any depth, and now, I think it has a lot to do with the depth. The national program is giving kids a lot of opportunities to play in different situations and World Championships, and have a long schedule. The U-18 team is playing Division I schools already, so when those kids go to college, they’re almost going in as a sophomore. And I think just the 1980 Olympic team, I think that really caught on with everybody and you know it was such a huge upset and something to be proud of as an American. I think that really caught on.”
Housley can be considered one of the founding fathers of the new generation of American hockey players, laying the groundwork for young defensemen like Jack Johnson and Ryan Suter to follow. But just because you have ability doesn’t make you a candidate to set a national scoring record.
You need a lot more than that.“It’s just longevity I guess,” said Housley, a veteran of 21 NHL seasons. “I put myself in that position. I played with a lot of great players, but I never … my thing was if I played in the NHL 10 years, and been able to grow a mustache, I would have made it. But here we are, and it’s neat to see all the guys here.”
Housley certainly surpassed his personal expectations, except for maybe the mustache part. But if not for one magical season with Winnipeg in 1992-93 when he scored 97 points – crazy numbers for a defenseman in any era – he might not have owned the American scoring record at all.
He still remembers how many assists he dished out that season.
“Seventy-nine,” Housley says without a missing a beat. “I remember that year. It was one of the more fun years for me. Back then, out west, it was still more of a run-and-gun game and it was fun to play. Teemu (Selanne) scored 76 and beat (Mike) Bossy’s (rookie) record and we had a good chemistry on that team.
“You think about our power play, we had Freddie Olausson, myself, Teemu Selanne, (Alexei) Zhamnov and (Keith) Tkachuk,” he said. “That’s pretty good.”