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State of Hockey Ambassadors: Phil Housley

by James MacDonald / Minnesota Wild
In this series of interviews for, we sat down with those who have made a difference in the State of Hockey. These people have either been ambassadors to the sport in Minnesota or pioneers in making the game front and center in our state. Without them, and many like them, this simply could not be the State of Hockey.

Are you far enough removed from your playing days that it is flattering to hear yourself referred to as a pioneer? It’s very flattering. To be a part of the history of Minnesota hockey is an honor. In one of the more remarkable jumps anyone has taken in hockey, you moved from high school and into the NHL. How daunting was the prospect of that transition?

I don’t know if a lot of people know this, but my senior year, when we were knocked out of the section championship, I was asked by USA Hockey to try out for the U.S. National Team in 1982. I had a two-game tryout and a couple exhibition games in Germany and I made the team. The World Championship was a great measuring stick before I was drafted, and I had measured up pretty well against guys like Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Clarke.

What was it about your specific skill set allowed you to break into the league so young and then play for so long?

I think, No. 1, it was skating. I thought I was a very efficient skater. A lot of that was all the time I spent on the outdoor rinks – it was tough to get me off. In terms of skill, I thought I was very skilled with the puck, I could stickhandle, I had good speed and I could pass the puck. All the fundamental skills were there.

This might be a hard one to answer, but which career moments stand out for you?

You play 21 years, it’s hard to single out any one great memory – breaking in with Buffalo and being able to make the jump from high school to the NHL, being runner up for rookie of the year, playing in the All-Star Game at 19, playing in seven All-Star Games, winning a World Cup and a silver medal, getting to the Stanley Cup finals.

That first All-Star Game must have been a pretty special couple of days.

I was a kid in a candy store. I was like a little bump on the wall in that locker room, sitting next to Denis Potvin, Larry Robinson, Rod Langway, Doug Wilson. I was sort of scared. Thank goodness Gilbert Perreault was there with me because he took me under his wing. It was a great experience that I’ll never forget.

When did retirement begin to enter your thoughts?

During my last two years in Chicago, I was living there and my family had moved back to Minnesota. Even though you have a family of 20-something guys in the locker room, and you’re with them the majority of the time, it was hard being away from my family. Over that last year in Chicago, I didn’t announce anything because while I was contemplating retirement at that time, I still had some deals on the table. The more time I spent with my family, the less fire there was for me.

I know I still could have contributed to two or three teams, but my family was more important at that time. I had played 21 years and I made my own decision to retire. Nobody made it for me, and that’s fine.

What kind of coach are you?

I’m intense. I was intense as a player. I wasn’t a real rah-rah guy, but I was a talker on the bench. I’m pretty emotional. I wouldn’t say I’m a screamer, but I’m a guy who likes to challenge.
They are kids and you’re trying to teach them not only the game, but also discipline and how to become a better person. When you look at the list of things in high school hockey, yeah, we all want to win, but that’s maybe third or fourth in the big picture.

We all want to win, don’t get me wrong, but there are other things that come into play with high school kids because it’s very hard in today’s society.

Was the idea of coaching always appealing to you?

I think the biggest thing was when USA Hockey called me and wanted me to coach the Four Nations for the U18 National Team Development Program. I just fell in love with it. I loved being behind the bench, being able to make decisions. It’s one of the closest things you can get to not playing. You’re right there in the action. Although you don’t have control of an outcome, and that’s the frustrating part, you’re trying to guide kids or professionals. It’s just a passion. It has been a part of my life for my whole life. I love the game. I just want to be around it and be involved in it. It makes me happy.

Continue Reading:

Bob Breau | Commissioner, Minnesota Junior Hockey League

Erik Johnson | Defenseman, St. Louis Blues

Doug Johnson | Editor, Let's Play Hockey

Doug Woog | Former Minnesota Gophers Head Coach

Bob Naegele, Jr. | Former Chairman, Minnesota Wild &
Norm Coleman | Former U.S. Senator and Mayor of Saint Paul

Laura Halldorson | Former Gopher's Women's Coach

Phil Housley | Former NHL Player and High School Coach

Lou Nanne | Former NHL Player, Coach and General Manager

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