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Stanley Cup Final

Predators assistant coach Phil Housley two wins away from elusive Cup

Former NHL defenseman played nearly 1,500 games, says hoisting trophy would be 'ultimate reward'

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

NASHVILLE -- He is closer than he's ever been to winning the Stanley Cup. In a quiet moment on Tuesday, Nashville Predators assistant coach Phil Housley allowed himself to voice the universal hockey dream.

"I guess it would be the pinnacle of anybody's career," said Housley, the former defenseman who played 21 NHL seasons and is in his fourth season on the Predators staff. "Whether you're a player or coach, it's the ultimate reward for all the hard work you've put in.

"It would be a great accomplishment to be able to lift the Stanley Cup, but we're far from it right now. We've got to win two games against a very good hockey team. You're always pursuing it as a player or a coach and to say you won a Stanley Cup would be pretty special."

 

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The Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins are tied 2-2 in the best-of-7 series that continues with Game 5 in Pittsburgh on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

Housley, 53, finished his playing career as the NHL's leading scorer among U.S.-born defensemen. The No. 6 pick of the 1982 NHL Draft played for the Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs and had 1,232 points (338 goals, 894 assists) in 1,495 regular-season games. He played 85 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and came within reach of the Cup once -- with the Capitals, who lost four straight to the Detroit Red Wings in the 1998 Final.

"Every season you come in, you try to prepare yourself to have a chance to win the Stanley Cup," Housley said. "It plays out differently every season.

"First, you have to qualify [for the playoffs] and then anything can happen. I was optimistic every year going into training camp, and then I think it's all timing. Things have to go your way, you have to get bounces. You have to play extremely well defensively, and it turned out I only had one chance in the Final to be able to do that and it was against a very good Detroit team.

"But it's why you play the game, to have a chance to play for it. And you have to have a belief you can win it every year."

Housley's gifts as a player were impressive. He was an elite skater with hands to match. In each of his first 11 NHL seasons, he had at least 60 points.

His best season may have been as the perfect complement to then-NHL rookie Teemu Selanne with the Jets. Selanne broke NHL rookie records for goals (76) and points (132), and Housley was a major contributor with 97 points (18 goals, 79 assists) in 80 games.

The South St. Paul, Minnesota, native was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 9, 2015, after going into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.

Hired by the Predators on May 21, 2013, Housley's experiences have given him a vast bank of knowledge that has benefited the players.

"I think he's been unbelievable," Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "He's been in the League for I don't know how many years, and was a point-per-game defenseman.

"They don't come around that often and to have him around on a daily basis to learn from, to talk to, to get advice from … as soon as he says something on the ice or in the locker room or off the ice, you listen because he knows what to do out there and he's been through this process."

Ekholm said Housley knows how to keep things positive and light.

"He sees the possibilities and the opportunities," Ekholm said. "He's been huge for me and my development here."

Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said Housley's voice in the dressing room is key.

"[He] keeps everything light and keeps whatever's happening even-keeled," Ellis said. "On the ice in practice, you can see he's fun to be around. If he gives us a hard time, then we try to give him a hard time.

"And his knowledge, how do you compete with anyone who's got almost 1,500 games and almost as many points? He's in the Hockey Hall of Fame and all that, and his knowledge is endless."

Housley's passion for the game as a player was deep and continued in the later years of his career, when his coaches allowed him input into schemes and game plans.

His growth as a coach includes not only the understanding of how to play, but the pressures of that come with it, how to connect with today's players and enhance their chance for success. That was fostered by 10 seasons coaching at Stillwater (Minnesota) High School after he retired as a player.

"I really fell in love with it," Housley said. "It taught me to be patient and made me understand what kids were going through today."

With Housley two games from winning the Stanley Cup, it's turned out to be no small lesson.

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