In his second season as an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators, Housley is in charge of the Preds defensemen, a natural fit for the highest scoring American-born D-man in NHL history. With over 1,200 points during his career, the St. Paul, Minnesota, native has taken his knowledge of the game, instilling it throughout the Nashville lineup.
For Housley, staying involved in hockey, particularly coaching, affords an opportunity unlike any other.
“It’s as close as you can get to the action without even playing,” Housley said. “You still get the emotions, the highs and the lows of the game… It’s something that I really love to do, and I’m glad I’m here in Nashville.”
When the 2014-15 season began, Housley was the only man behind the Preds bench that had been in Nashville during the previous campaign. Working with Head Coach Peter Laviolette and fellow Assistant Coach Kevin McCarthy has expanded Housley’s views on the profession. Three months into the season, the camaraderie between the coaches that began to build over the summer continues to expand.
“I think he’s an excellent coach,” Laviolette said of Housley. “The way he conducts himself, certainly the experience he brings as a player from the League, what he can bring from his knowledge of coaching and his experiences on the ice are all beneficial. In the meetings that he runs, I think he does an excellent job of getting his message across to the players. He certainly has the respect of the players, and I think it’s been really good getting to know him myself and working with him on a professional level.”
“We have a lot of good chemistry,” Housley said of coaching alongside Laviolette and McCarthy. “I was fortunate enough to work with Lavy over at the World Championships [with USA Hockey], and that really helped to create that relationship as coaches. Kevin is very easy to work with as well. He’s really calm and collected, and they’re both very knowledgeable. I’m just trying to absorb as much as I can and trying to gain as much experience from them as possible.”
Housley first gained experience as a coach with USA Hockey, entering the ranks in 2004 upon retirement from playing. In addition to coaching at Stillwater High School in Minnesota for nine seasons, Housley was the head bench boss for the 2013 Gold Medal-winning USA squad that captured the World Junior Championship.
Later in that same year, Predators General Manager David Poile came calling. Housley was named as an assistant coach in Nashville on May 23, 2013, a move that has worked for all parties, including those on the ice.
“Everyone knows who Phil Housley is,” Predators defenseman Victor Bartley said. “His knowledge of the game has been great for us. He picks up little things on video, and even during the game, that you wouldn’t even think about doing to actually make your game easier and more efficient. He’s been great overall in teaching skill aspects especially, but more so learning the game has been the main focus.”
“He’s one of the best defenseman of all-time, and having a guy like that coach you is definitely great,” defenseman Roman Josi said. “He knows what to do in different situations and he’s been teaching us a lot. He talks to us a lot and it’s helpful, especially for young guys. You want to get better and you want to learn from guys like him.”
Instilling knowledge is exactly what Housley is doing, but he received experience in that area prior to his transition into coaching. When the latter portions of his playing career arrived, Housley believed that his on-ice roles played a part into shaping his beliefs and philosophies as a coach. Those duties have largely come naturally.
“I was a captain or assistant captain at one point [during my career], and even at times when I didn’t wear a letter, you feel like you’re almost a coach out there trying to help the young guys or just trying to say the right things,” Housley said. “I think the approach has always been comfortable for me.”
That approach includes being able to communicate with players whenever necessary. The relationship between head coach and assistant coach is often different, with the assistant routinely acting as a buffer of sorts, perhaps for clarification or further emphasis on a point made from the top.
For Housley, it’s about picking the right time to exercise that ability to get the message across.
“I tend not to try to talk to the guys right after their shift,” Housley said. “I try to let them think about it and breathe, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, just to let them digest for a little bit. Guys are going to make mistakes. It’s natural, it’s the game, but if we can try to limit them and dwell on the positives, that’s the true focus.”
Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis considers himself to play with a similar offensive mindset from the backend that Housley employed during his time as a player. Ellis says that learning from someone like Housley is extremely beneficial.
“For me, he’s just encouraged me to join the rush,” Ellis said of Housley. “He knows I have to be strong defensively and continue to get better at that, but just being involved in the offense; that’s how he played. Hearing it from him and his ideas, it’s helped me move forward in my development.”
Ellis also appreciates the communication that Housley brings to the forefront, whether it’s during a game or in a film session. The expansive possibilities of how to read and react to different situations on the ice is something that Ellis believes is key to his development, as well as the rest of the D-corps.
“We may see one thing, [Housley] may see another,” Ellis said. “We just talk back and forth about what we saw, what he saw and what could’ve been a better play, or if it was the right play. He’s very encouraging.”
There’s also plenty of encouragement to go around the Nashville locker room these days. While Housley admits that winning is paramount in this business, and the Preds have done their fair share of that this season, there’s also the promise that there’s something better looming on the horizon.
“I’ve got a quote in my office that says, ‘Nothing works unless you do,’ and it really is the truth,” Housley said. “If you don’t put any time and effort into it, you’re not going to get the results you want.”
For 21 seasons between eight different clubs, Housley got plenty of results on the ice. Now he’s making a name for himself all over again, this time from the other side of the bench.
“I enjoy coming to the rink,” Housley said. “I enjoy this organization, and I enjoy the team right now. Our guys are good. We’ve got great chemistry, a great bond right now and we’re building something special.”