The story goes that it only took one shift for Scotty Bowman to see enough of Phil Housley to know he was his guy.
Housley was playing at South St. Paul High School, and Bowman, the coach and general manager of the Buffalo Sabres, traveled to Minnesota at the behest of scout Rudy Migkway.
Bowman walked into the rink, saw Housley for one shift, and told the college coaches in attendance he was selecting Housley and bringing him straight to the NHL. Then Bowman selected Housley with the sixth pick in the 1982 NHL Draft, and Housley played 77 games for Buffalo the following season.
Thirty-four years later, as Housley, who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, waxed about his hockey memories, South St. Paul was weaved into his tales of his formative years in Minnesota.
"To me, looking back and playing as a kid, I wanted to make my South St. Paul High School team, which was rich in tradition, and the history of the town; just a great town," Housley said. "Finally when I made it as a freshman, you always wanted to get to the state high school tournament. It was the goal that everybody wanted to achieve."
He got there twice. "And I'm still upset I wasn't there for my third year when West St. Paul beat us," Housley said.
Housley's storybook and soon to be immortal hockey career began in Minnesota. Its next step will be Monday, up to a podium, and into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
"It's going to be pretty hard to describe or put into words," Housley said. "I know when I got the call earlier this summer, it was a shock, it was a stream of emotions, but I don't know how I'm going to feel, to tell you the truth. Because once you step up on that podium, I'm sure there are going to be a lot of emotions going through."
As he recounted shinny hockey, ball hockey, and even some baseball, Housley chose each word meticulously, much like his game was as a defenseman.
Housley's career actually began as a center on travel hockey teams. South St. Paul High School coach Doug Woog decided to switch him to defense.
"Doug was sort of like my second dad I would say," Housley said. "He saw something, he was innovative, he put me back there—maybe he could play me more, I don't know—it was a great move. I owe a lot to him. He taught me the game, he developed me, and he gave me the best chance to succeed to go to the NHL."
It was very fitting that, before Housley left for Toronto, his final game was in Minnesota on Thursday. Housley is now an assistant coach for the Nashville Predators, and he was honored pregame by dropping the ceremonial first puck, flanked by wife Karin, children Avery, Reide, and Taylor, and son-in-law Jeremy.
They'll also be joining him in Toronto.
"That's going to be special to me because they had a lot to do throughout my playing career," Housley said. "The one thing I do wish is my mom and dad could be there to take it in, to just experience the whole thing because they were a lot of the reasons why I was able to do it."
Housley reminisced about his days on any of the 10 outdoor rinks that were at his disposal growing up in South St. Paul. Friendships built through hours at the rink, driveway games played with brother Larry ("breaking all the windows…my dad got really ticked off "), and a neighborhood gang that always was playing some kind of sport together, year-round.
"[Larry] was always like a rough-tumble guy," Housley said. "He always took the Philadelphia Flyers, and I always liked the Montreal Canadiens because they had all the championships. My idol was Guy Lafleur."
Then Housley reached the NHL, and in his first exhibition game found himself standing next to Lafleur.
"I was the second star, but I don't even remember scoring the goal," Housley said.
These stories define who Housley is, and Minnesota always seems to find its way into the cartography.
And from a state that has hockey so intertwined at its core, Housley will become just the third Minnesotan to be inducted into the Hall.
"You don't change as a person, but when you're going to be called a Hall of Famer, it's really special; it's very humbling," Housley said. "To see all the players that went in before me, and to be a part of that select group—I will cherish it for the rest of my life."