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Morning Skate | Houser to make NHL debut with Luukkonen out

Goaltender has not appeared in a game since March 7, 2020

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Michael Houser always kept an eye on his NHL dream, regardless of how the circumstances stacked against him. 

Houser went undrafted out of OHL London, where he received the Red Tilson Trophy as the league's most outstanding player in 2011-12. He signed an entry-level deal with the Florida Panthers organization, splitting time between the AHL and ECHL. 

It was his first and only NHL contract before this season. Houser never considered playing overseas, instead signing a series of AHL deals with the thought of being a call away from the NHL. 

"I've always thought as long as I have that I'll just be patient, work hard and hopefully I get my chance," Houser said. "I've certainly gotten it tonight."

Video: PREGAME: Houser

The 28-year-old will make his NHL debut for the Sabres against the New York Islanders on Monday, becoming the sixth goaltender to start a game for the team this season. Dustin Tokarski did not participate in the morning skate, but interim coach Don Granato said the team was gauging his availability to serve as backup. 

Tokarski entered during the third period in Boston on Saturday following an injury to rookie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who was still being evaluated by the medical staff as of Monday morning. Linus Ullmark, who has missed the past 10 games with a lower-body injury, participated in the morning skate but will not play. 

"We're gathering more information on that to see how he responded and felt with regard to the skate today to see if there's more reason to be optimistic on him in the next few days," Granato said regarding Ullmark.

The Sabres signed Houser to an NHL deal on March 19 as injuries mounted in net. He began the year as a backup in Rochester after spending the past two seasons with Buffalo's ECHL affiliate in Cincinnati. Since then, he's either been on the taxi squad or on the bench as backup to Tokarski.

Houser has not appeared in a game since March 7, 2020, a 24-save shutout for Cincinnati before the ECHL season ended due to COVID-19. He last played in the AHL during the 2017-18 season. 

"It's still hockey," he said. "Like, I've always viewed myself as a hockey player. That's always been my job ever since I turned pro when I was 20, I've just been working for this moment. The work never changes based on where you're playing, whether it's Cincinnati, Rochester or Buffalo."


The lineup

Here's how the team lined up Monday morning: 

53 Jeff Skinner - 23 Sam Reinhart - 68 Victor Olofsson
74 Rasmus Asplund - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 72 Tage Thompson
96 Anders Bjork - 24 Dylan Cozens - 25 Arttu Ruotsalainen
15 Riley Sheahan - 20 Cody Eakin - 91 Drake Caggiula

26 Rasmus Dahlin - 10 Henri Jokiharju
54 Mattias Samuelsson - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
78 Jacob Bryson - 3 William Borgen


Final stretch 

The game begins the final week of the season for the Sabres, who play back-to-back at home against the Islanders before finishing with a two-game set in Pittsburgh on Thursday and Saturday. 

Granato said he expects his young lineup to continue to use the games as an opportunity to improve coming off a 6-2 loss in Boston on Saturday.

"Four games left, they've worked hard, they've had to fight through a lot which we all know, and we have to find a real internal motivation to play," Granato said. "On the simplest side of it, I can tell you in two weeks when the season ends these guys will be dying to get on the ice, dying to play and dying to play a game. So, here we are"


Tune in 

Coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m. Puck drop is scheduled for 7.

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