After serving as an assistant coach for two bronze medal-winning efforts at the Under-20 World Junior Championship for the U.S. National Junior Team, seven-time NHL All-Star Phil Housley will now be gunning for gold as the head coach at the 2013 WJC in Ufa, Russia.
Housley, who retired from the game in 2004 following 21 NHL seasons, on Monday was introduced as Team USA's head coach during a USA Hockey media teleconference.
"Phil has worn the jersey for us in Russia … it's a different place to play, a different environment, and the history that Phil has as a player there will carry over into his coaching and everything that goes into it with the players," U.S. National Junior Team general manager Jim Johannson said. "It is unique to go into Russia and to play in a world championship event, and I think that is another part that sets Phil apart from other people."
The 2013 WJC in Russia will mark the first time in five years that the tournament will be staged outside North America.
"We're going to have to be efficient because of the big ice surface, but we'll be relentless on the puck," Housley said. "We're going to have to play very strong positionally because of the competition we face within our group, so we want to be efficient as we move into the zone and really be a puck pressure team. You have to try and take away time and space defensively because of the highly-skilled teams we'll have to face."
At the time of Housley's retirement, the native of South St. Paul, Minn., was the NHL's all-time leader in points (338-894-1,232) and games played (1,495) by an American-born player. His U.S. record for games played was broken by Chris Chelios in 2006 and his mark for most points lasted until Mike Modano established the new standard one year later.
Housley will be assisted by Ohio State University head coach Mark Osiecki, who served as an assistant for the 2010 National Junior Team that garnered gold, and University of Minnesota assistant coach Grant Potulny.
"I'm going to rely on Mark and Grant for their input because they're facing a lot of the teams and players who are invited to development camp in August," Housley said.
Housley is considered one of the best American defenseman ever, along with Chelios and Brian Leetch. Internationally, he represented the United States as a player on 11 occasions during his career, including as a member of the U.S. team that captured the first-ever World Cup of Hockey in 1996. He also assisted the U.S. to a silver medal at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
What is the secret to international success?
"Getting off on the right foot; the first game is so important," Housley said. "When you look at our schedule, we're playing four games in five nights, and the competition is going to be extremely difficult. We've won medals in two of the last three tournaments, and it seems once you get that good start, it carries and that momentum and confidence goes with it."
The U.S. is coming off a disappointing 2012 WJC finish after entering the tournament with its usual high expectations. Successive preliminary-round setbacks to Finland, Czech Republic and Canada knocked the Americans from medal round contention for the first time in 13 years. The team needed a 12-2 victory over Latvia in the opening game of the relegation round in order to earn a ticket to the 2013 WJC. The seventh-place finish was the lowest for Team USA at the WJC since finishing eighth in 1999.
"To a degree, it's a new group this year because there's so much turnover of players … there are only three guys who are eligible to return from last year's team [defenseman Jacob Trouba, forward J.T. Miller and goalie John Gibson], so it's obviously a large turnover," Johannson said. "I think we really must look at the challenges this year.
"Heading over on the big ice is different than it's been the last few years and being in Russia, far out in the country, is a different setting. Over a 20-day period, I think we felt that Phil's the guy who can circle that entire group and get them on task in a place far off in the world."
Housley, who was an assistant coach of the U.S. National Junior Team that won bronze in 2007 and 2011, completed his eighth season as head coach at Stillwater High School in Minnesota in 2011-12. He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004, the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame in 2007, and became only the 20th American inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame in May. He's currently eligible for enshrinement into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Housley will get his first glimpse at the players he'll be evaluating, and ultimately choosing, during the National Junior Evaluation Camp slated Aug. 4-11 in Lake Placid, New York.
"In June it's hard to look too far forward, but we are pleased with the overall depth of the players coming to camp, but time will tell," Johannson said. "I think it's going to be competitive in Lake Placid and, in December, as we narrow down list of players."
The WJC, which runs Dec. 26 through Jan. 5, will feature host Russia, Team USA, Team Canada, Slovakia and Germany in Group B and playing out of the 7,950-seat Ufa Arena during preliminary-round action. Defending gold medalist Sweden, which scored a 1-0 overtime victory over Russia in last year's WJC final to end 30 years of championship futility, heads the Group A field with Finland, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Latvia.
"It'll be an open competition [at development camp] to fight for those roster spots and I like that," Housley said. "That breeds inner challenges within our group, and it's going to be highly competitive."
After being drafted No. 6 by the Sabres in 1982, Housley would produce 60 points in each of his eight seasons with the club. In 1990, he was dealt to the Winnipeg Jets and played three seasons there, amassing 18 goals and a career-high 97 points in 80 games in 1992-93. He finished second runner-up behind winner Leetch and Boston's Ray Bourque in the voting for the 1992 Norris Trophy.
Between 1993 and 1998, Housley spent time with the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals. He came close to garnering the Stanley Cup with the Capitals in '98, but the team was swept in the Final by the Detroit Red Wings.
He returned to the Flames for three seasons beginning in 1998-99, posting 50-plus points in two of those years. The Chicago Blackhawks claimed Housley off waivers in 2001 and he notched 15 goals and 39 points in 2001-02. He was acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 2003 trading deadline, and, following a brief stint there, became a free agent that summer before deciding to call it a career in January 2004.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale