Phil Housley didn’t start playing the game of hockey to become a hall of famer, but he knew he didn’t want to entertain the idea of not being on the ice.
“My father, who was a plaster-taper guy, showed me a great work ethic; I worked with him one summer, I said, ‘There’s no way I’m going to be doing this,’” Housley laughed. “But that’s exactly what he told me, ‘You don’t want to be doing this the rest of your life.’”
As it turns out, the hockey gig was a nice alternative.
Housley, who will officially be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night in Toronto, produced a career that finished with 1,232 points in 1,495 regular season games, the 39th-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.
Now in his third season as an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators, Housley knows a thing or two about playing the game. Now he’s passing that knowledge down to those who make up what is arguably the top defense corps in the entire NHL.
“For young guys, helping a guy on the bench, especially for a defenseman who played the game that long and that well, it’s huge,” defenseman Roman Josi said of Housley. “He’s talking to us a lot, he helps us out with little things, things he sees, things he did in his game, and it’s been great for us to have him here.”
“Whether you have a good game or bad game, he’s there to talk you through it,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “To have him come in, and especially having the young D corps a couple years ago, he really brought us up to speed quickly. He’s someone that knows the game as well as he does, it definitely helped us develop.”
Swedish blueliner Mattias Ekholm believes Housley played a large role in his transition from Europe to adjusting to the North American style of the game at the NHL level. Ekholm recently signed a six-year contract to remain with the Preds, and Housley’s work with the defenseman has helped him improve into a key part of the Nashville D corps.
“Especially for me coming over from Sweden - I had one year in Milwaukee - but still to have him teach me and talk to me every day in different situations, it’s been huge,” Ekholm said. “He has so much knowledge as a great coach and he was an even better player.”
Housley’s induction into the Hall of Fame comes courtesy of his illustrious playing career, but the work he does now behind the bench is equally valuable to the overall success of the Predators game after game.
“He’s proven he’s a really good coach at different levels and now this level,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said of Housley. “You get somebody like that to work with young defensemen on a daily basis and show them video, work with them on the ice, it’s a really valuable asset for your club.
“Not only was he an unbelievable player, but he’s a great person and certainly a great coach. He’s helped so many young players in our locker room.”
There may be some playful ribbing when Housley returns back from Toronto on Tuesday when the Preds face the Ottawa Senators. Or perhaps it’s already begun.
“We didn’t listen to him so far, so now I guess we have to,” Josi laughed. “Whenever he says something we just say, ‘Yeah, we’re not hall of famers so we can’t do that, only hall of famers can do that,’ so we give him a little hard time for sure.”
But the Preds couldn’t be more proud of their coach and all he’s accomplished to this point. Housley’s hockey career continues to turn out all right anyway.
“His stats are endless, but to come here and do what he does for our D corps and coach us and add his two cents every day, it makes it that much more special,” Ellis said. “Especially knowing him as a person and seeing him go into the Hall of Fame, that’s the ultimate honor.”