When Phil Housley saw the 416 Toronto-based area code appear on his phone Monday afternoon, he had a pretty good idea of who might be on the line.
Even so, the call to tell the 51-year-old Nashville Predators assistant coach he had been chosen to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015 still seems like a dream.
“I don’t think it has really sunk in yet,” Housley said. “Now that I had a chance to sleep on it, it still seems surreal that you’re quote, unquote, a hall of famer. I’m just sort of on cloud nine right now.”
Housley’s wife, Karin, was present when the call came in and captured the former defenseman in all of his glory.
“She’s very good at social media,” Housley laughed. “It was funny, one of those photos that’s a ‘Kodak moment’ if you want to say.”
Housley had plenty of those moments over his 21 seasons in the NHL, a career that finished with 1,232 points in 1,495 regular season games, the 17th highest total in League history. The St. Paul, Minn. native is second in scoring by an American-born NHL player, trailing only Mike Modano, and fourth in all-time points scored by a defenseman.
He’s now able to share the honor with those who matter most, his wife and his four children, who traveled with their dad to eight different cities during his time in the NHL.
“There are a lot of people in my life that have made a tremendous amount of sacrifice,” Housley said. “In my playing days, I moved around to new teams, and I don’t think people realize the stress it can put on a family behind the scenes, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. The kids, when they were young enough at the time, they just saw it as an adventure and were excited to go to a new city. In that respect, the sacrifice that they’ve made, and then being able to share this with them at an older, adult age is really incredible. They’re all excited, they’re happy for me and that’s what it’s all about.”
Housley was barely an adult himself when he entered the League in 1982 with the Buffalo Sabres as an 18-year-old. After gaining experience playing for the U.S. National Team during his senior year of high school, Housley was drafted sixth overall by Buffalo.
Before training camp, Housley’s agent told him he’d likely have to spend half the year in the minor leagues before getting a call-up to the Sabres. That wasn’t necessary.
“Back then, you heard the stories about the minors and how tough it was and that wasn’t going to be for me,” Housley said. “I really focused on my positioning, came to camp in really good shape and had a great camp, had a great preseason, made the team and the rest is history.”
Housley spent his first eight seasons in Buffalo before making stops in Winnipeg, St. Louis, Calgary, New Jersey, Washington, Calgary again and then Chicago, before finishing up in Toronto in 2003. He topped the 20-goal plateau seven times, finishing with a total of 338 goals, the fourth highest total by a defenseman.
Housley recorded 40 or more assists in 13 different campaigns, finishing with 894 helpers, good for fifth all-time among NHL blueliners. He went over the 60-point mark 12 times, including a 97-point 1992-93 season with the Jets, and also skated in seven NHL All-Star Games across three different decades.
“The one thing I’m really proud of is being an impact player throughout my 21 years,” Housley said. “But the most important thing is the competition, the people you meet and play with and the friendships you create. Just the comradery in the locker room, coming to the rink, enjoying and having a passion for the game, those things you miss when you’re no longer a player. Now that I’m a coach, I get to feel those emotions again, which is great.”
Housley also continued to represent his country on the ice, skating for Team USA at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, a tournament which the United States won, as well as an appearance at the 2002 Winter Olympics, earning a silver medal with Team USA.
“Not many players get a medal in the Olympics, so those times were very special for me,” Housley said. “I have some really great bonds with a lot of U.S. players, and I thank USA Hockey for allowing me that opportunity.”
When Housley’s NHL career came to a close in 2003, it wasn’t long before he made the move from the ice to the bench. After beginning his coaching career in the Minnesota high school ranks, Housley joined his country once again, eventually guiding Team USA to the 2013 World Junior Championship. Then, in May of 2013, the Predators came calling in search of an assistant coach.
Housley said he received over 150 text messages and plenty of phone calls on Monday after the Hall of Fame announcement, with a number of the well wishes this time coming from those who reside in a 615 area code.
“I got a lot of texts from the guys and the management, and they’ve been just great supporters,” Housley said of the Predators players, coaches and executives. “It’s great to get texts from players, especially the guys that have been around for a while because they realize what an honor it is to be in special company to be a part of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Certainly it was great to hear from our guys and the coaching staff and the management of the Nashville organization.”
While Housley made a name for himself as one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game, eventually leading to the call from the Hall, he’s quite fond of coaching too. And even with all of the excitement surrounding his latest achievement, Housley already has the Preds on his mind.
“I’m really proud to be a part of Nashville’s organization; I think it’s a great community, the fans are awesome and we’ve got a great team,” Housley said. “We weren’t far off last year, and I think we’ve got some unfinished business here with the young team. I’m excited to get back to work and see these guys and hopefully take up where we left off last season.”