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Houser, ECHL goalie, to make NHL debut for Sabres

28-year-old will be sixth to start for Buffalo this season; Luukkonen, Hutton, Ullmark each remain out @NHLdotcom

Michael Houser, a 28-year-old, nine-season professional goalie, will make his NHL debut for the Buffalo Sabres against the New York Islanders on Monday (7 p.m. ET; MSG-B, MSG+2, NHL.TV).

Houser last started a professional game March 7, 2020 with Cincinnati of the ECHL, making 24 saves in a 1-0 shutout against Toledo.

"I've always thought as long as I have that I'll just be patient, work hard and hopefully I get my chance," Houser said. "I've certainly gotten it tonight. 

"It's been a while since I played, so I'm just going to try to get into the game as quick as possible and get a couple touches. It's exciting. I've waited for this for a long time and worked extremely hard for it. It's an exciting opportunity for myself."

Houser began this season as the backup in Rochester of the American Hockey League after playing two seasons with Cincinnati, Buffalo's ECHL affiliate. Since signing an entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers on July 9, 2012 as an undrafted free agent, Houser played eight seasons in the ECHL and AHL.

"It's still hockey," Houser said. "I've always viewed myself as a hockey player. That's always been my job ever since I turned pro when I was 20, I've just been working for this moment. The work never changes based on where you're playing, whether it's Cincinnati, Rochester or Buffalo. I think the exciting thing, too, is I've never played a game with all NHL [players], all NHL defensemen in front of me. So being able to play with them tonight, go back and play the puck and watch them break it out, it's going to be fun."

Houser, who has been playing hockey since age 5, had to play goalie because of a foot deformity. He was born with bilateral clubfeet and needed more than a dozen surgeries before turning 4 years old.

"I don't think about it too much, to be honest," he said. "I know it's out there and people know about it; a form of clubbed feet, it's never really hindered me at all. I've been able to perform, perform at a high level at various times. It's kept me going, for sure, it's made me work I think a little bit harder knowing that I have to keep up, that I'm not as naturally I guess gifted as some others in terms of maybe footwork or height for sure, but it's definitely made me work harder. In the summer and goalie ice, I have to work that much harder on my footwork and my speed, so in terms of that I think it's definitely helped try to keep my edge."

Houser has played 198 ECHL games and 73 AHL games.

"I'm going to have to tell myself I played a million of these before, just different players on the ice," Houser said. "But it's exciting. There's nothing to back down from. I've been waiting for this for a long time, so just ready to get going tonight."

Houser will be the sixth goalie to start for Buffalo this season. The Sabres are without Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who sustained a lower-body injury Saturday; Linus Ullmark, who is week to week with a lower-body injury; and Carter Hutton, who has missed 21 games because of a lower-body injury.

"I'm very happy for [Houser], obviously," Ullmark said. "It's a great opportunity for him to play on a top level playing against one of the best teams in the League as well. I'm just happy for him. I don't give him any comments or so, like, 'You do this, you do that.' I'm just going to go back him and (give him) congratulations and just push him to enjoy it."

Dustin Tokarski and Jonas Johansson also started for the Sabres this season.

Buffalo coach Don Granato said he expected an update on Luukkonen later Monday, and that Ullmark, who took part in the morning skate, was improving.

"We're gathering more information on [Ullmark] to see how he responded and felt with regard to the skate today to see if there's more reason to be optimistic on him in the next few days," Granato said.

Houser could be backed up by Stefanos Lekkas, who was signed to a professional tryout contract Monday.

Buffalo (13-32-7) is last in the eight-team MassMutual East Division and has been eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention. New York (31-15-5) has qualified for the playoffs and is four points behind the first-place Pittsburgh Penguins and two points behind the second-place Washington Capitals. independent correspondent Heather Engel contributed to this report

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