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Housley intends to bring communication, aggressiveness to Sabres

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Phil Housley Press Conference


The Buffalo Sabres introduce Phil Housley as head coach

  • 27:51 •

It was an instance of one future member of the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame writing about another. Jim Kelley, the longtime Sabres beat reporter for The Buffalo News, wrote a column to wrap up the playing career of Phil Housley, one of the best defensemen in franchise history, and he showed tremendous foresight in doing so.

The column, published in January 2004, was titled "Coaching, not Cup, would cap Housley's career." It made the claim that the absence of a Stanley Cup victory wouldn't define Housley's Hall of Fame playing career, and that coaching young players would be an appropriate next step.

Indeed, just as Kelley foresaw, Housley quickly took to coaching in his home state of Minnesota upon retiring, spending nine seasons as the head coach at Stillwater Area High School. He also coached Team USA multiple times - he won gold at the 2013 World Junior Championship - just as Kelley guessed.

But what about coaching and a Cup? It was a possibility as recently as last week. Housley's coaching career brought him to the bench of the Nashville Predators, where he spent four seasons and came two wins away from hockey's greatest prize this past postseason. 

Now, it will be his mission in Buffalo. Housley's career came full circle when he was named the 18th coach of the Sabres, a reality that brought a smile to his face upon his introduction on Thursday.

"I don't think it's really sunk in," Housley said. "I know my wife and I, our family, are really excited to come back to Buffalo and be a part of this community but I'm really looking forward to the challenge and I'm really excited. I don't think people realize how pumped I am about coming back to Buffalo and being a part of this organization and trying to do something special here."

Video: Phil Housley 1-on-1 (6/15/17)

Terry Pegula, the Sabres owner who fondly remembered watching Housley play his first games from the red seats at The Aud in 1982, spoke Thursday about how Housley humbled himself when he transitioned from Hall of Fame defenseman to high school coach. "He didn't play humble," Pegula said, "but he started his coaching career in that kind of fashion."

It was in Stillwater where Housley learned patience, and with that patience and communication he helped develop the Nashville defensive corps. into one of the League's best. He was there to see Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and Roman Josi mature from young players into the caliber of defensemen who could carry a team through the postseason, as they did over the past two months. 

That track record of communication and development, along with a penchant for attention to detail is what made Housley appeal to Sabres general manager Jason Botterill. Housley will be similarly tasked with developing Buffalo's young defensemen, a group that includes Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe, both players who he called cornerstones of the franchise.

"You look at Ellis and Mattias Ekholm - Roman was there before but even in his maturity as a player - I think it's just developing them," Housley said. "I understand that they're good but we've got a lot of good players on this team, too. 

"It's about just learning the system, learning to play the way we want to play, and they will be heavily involved in our attack. And I'm not saying we're going to go reckless abandon here, were not going to be reckless and defensive liabilities, but we want to have our defense in the play."


Housley's already earned praise from one of the NHL's highest-profile stars in P.K. Subban, who he coached this past season. He expects that experience to serve him well in connecting with another rising star in Jack Eichel, and he should be able to fall back on his own experiences - Housley was a star himself upon coming into the League at 18 - as well. 

He expects that his players will enjoy his brand of hockey too, which he describes as an up-tempo, five-man attack. It's his philosophy that if he gives players the freedom to make decisions on the ice, they'll repay him by making the right choices more often than not.  

But, mostly, Housley seems to want to connect with his players simply by relating to them. 

"I want to be rubbing shoulders with the players because I understand what they're going through, and I think that's one of the biggest assets that I have is going through the battles with them," he said. 

"There's a fine line obviously with the head coach and the message, you've got to be firm, but I think if you can get in there with them and be a part of something, I think that's the one thing I learned, that they'll play for you."

With that, Housley hopes to build a culture capable of one day claiming the prize that eluded him just one week ago.

"It's been a terrific ride, really," he said. "I'm excited to get to work."

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