Despite never having the opportunities that today's American-born players are given, both Phil Housley and Rob McClanahan know the importance of teamwork when the going gets tough.
That's precisely the mantra Housley and McClanahan will use when they step behind opposing benches to coach their respective teams at the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo on Saturday. Each will instruct two goalies, six defensemen and 12 forwards in the inaugural event, which features 40 of the top American-born players eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft.
"It's important that we play as a team," Housley told reporters during a Monday conference call. "I know everybody wants to showcase their talent and this is an important game for a lot of these kids' future, but you gain individual recognition through hard teamwork and that's the way I think we'll approach it."
Housley, who helped the United States win the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, knows what the expected 100-plus scouts in attendance might be seeking.
McClanahan excited for opportunity
Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Staff Writer
Former Sabres draft pick Rob McClanahan will return to Buffalo as the coach of Team McClanahan at the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game. READ MORE ›
"They're going to be looking at who can make plays, who is consistently in good position and who can be trusted out there in key situations," Housley said. "Scouts aren't only looking at the run-and-gun players that attract the most attention. It's the guys who can make plays and be responsible away from the puck … so we'll focus on those things."
McClanahan, who jokingly admitted that Housley had the "inside scoop" on who to select on his team because he'll coach the U.S. team that competes at the 2013 World Junior Championship, feels players just need to continue to do the things that earned them a roster spot.
"This game is one step in their entire process," McClanahan said. "It's an important game and an important day, but it's not the end-all. It just gives them an opportunity to be in front of some people and to continue to showcase their talents. I always tell the players the puck moves faster than you can skate, and that's how we're going to try and play."
Housley and McClanahan are also looking forward to returning to Buffalo -- the city where it all began for both of them. Housley, the sixth player chosen in the 1982 NHL Draft, spent 21 seasons in the League -- including his first eight with the Sabres. McClanahan, drafted in the third round (No. 49) by the Sabres in 1978, spent parts of two seasons with Buffalo.
"I know the community, and Buffalo is a great sports town; they support the professional and college teams," Housley said. "I'll never forget playing my first exhibition game as a Sabre against the Montreal Canadiens, lining up during the pregame skate and looking across the ice and seeing Guy Lafleur, who was my idol."
McClanahan, who spent six seasons in the League, also recalled his first game for the Sabres.
"We were playing the St. Louis Blues and I saw Richard Martin score four goals and Gilbert Perreault had four assists … it was just an unbelievable experience," McClanahan said. "For me, those guys were phenomenal hockey players. I was just along for the ride."
McClanahan, a member of the gold medal-winning 1980 Miracle on Ice team in Lake Placid, N.Y., admits he learned from one of the best coaches in the business: Herb Brooks.
"The best coach I played for had the team concept down perfectly," he said. "In my view, he kept is pretty simple … move the puck. That's what I'll tell them.
"The kids must trust what they've done and believe that is enough," he continued. "You can't get bent out of shape if something goes wrong; they're not just preparing for this game but the rest of their lives."
Housley said though he never had the opportunity to play in a prospects game, USA Hockey did provide other opportunities.
"I tried out for the national team and was fortunate to make it, and that was sort of my prospects game because it allowed a lot of people to get a look at me in a different environment than just a regular-season game with your team," he said. "It's great to be recognized, but you have to enjoy the experience."
Housley also realizes that players will be nervous and mistakes are bound to happen, but those players who are able to forget about those errors on their next shift will ultimately be rewarded.
"We all get nervous in certain situations, but that just makes you play better," Housley said. "You're in this game for a reason and you have earned the right to play. You just have to do the simple things and don't do the things you're not accustomed to. Play it simple and allow your talent to take over."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale