Housley Comes Back Home to Sabres

The expression “Genius will out” fits Phil Housley‘s appointment as new Sabres head coach like a bowling ball making a perfect strike.

Arguably the greatest American-born defenseman in history, Phil now joins an impressive list of Uncle Sam’s ice geniuses populating major league hockey. Try Mike Sullivan and Peter Laviolette for starters.

And for Buffalonians, Housley’s return to Western New York disproves the theory that you can’t go home again.

Fiery Phil is most welcome, especially by those in Sabreland who remember that he was Buffalo’s first-round pick — sixth overall — of the 1982 NHL Entry Draft.

The St. Paul, Minnesota native then went on to develop his exceptional smarts by playing in a whopping twenty-one (21) seasons in the bigs.

Hired on Thursday by rookie general manager Jason Botterill, Housley had been so carefully eyed by the Sabres’ high command that you might have thought the general staff was using an Electron Microscope to ensure that they got the right guy.

Just watching Phil successfully fiddle around with Nashville’s defense as the Predators marched to the Stanley Cup Final should have been Botterill’s clincher although Jason also considered Bob Boughner, just hired by the Panthers.

[Maven: How the Penguins Won the Cup]

“Based on his experience as a player and coach,” Botterill explained in a prepared statement, “Phil is uniquely qualified to be our head coach and to help us achieve our organizational goals.

“His approach to the game aligns with the way we envision our hockey team playing and we’re excited to see where his leadership will take us in the future.”

Among the many personal assets, Housley will bring to Buffalo is a sense of self-confidence that was evident in his earliest years as a stickhandler.

Even before his NHL debut Phil publicly predicted that he would be greater than the defense icon of all defense icons, Bobby Orr.

A lofty statement but so what? Nobody ever was better than Orr in his prime but check out some of Phil’s phenomenal stats. His 1,232 career points (338 goals and 894 assists) rank third among American players and fourth among defensemen all-time.

He is also the Sabres’ career and individual-season leader in goals, assists, and points by a defenseman. Each of his eight seasons in Buffalo ranks among the top 10 single-season point totals by a Sabres defensemen.

Internationally, Housley was part of Team USA’s gold medal team at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, as well as the American squad that took home silver at the 2002 Winter Olympics. He also represented the United States at six IIFH World Championships, one IIHF World Junior Championship and two Canada Cups.

Then again, that’s ancient history. What matters to Botterill is how well Housley orchestrated the Nashville defense under Laviolette.

Writing in the Buffalo News, Sabres beat man John Vogl noted that Laviolette was one of Housley’s biggest boosters.

“Phil is detailed,” Laviolette said. “He runs good meetings, and he has the attention of the players. His game, his background, the player that he was, the hockey sense that he has, the way that he is able to communicate to the players are among his biggest assets.”

As Vogl also noted, Nashville defensemen seconded the motion of a very fine Phil behind the bench.

“Phil commands your respect right away,” P.K. Subban said. “When you have a guy like that to come back to the bench too, you want to soak in everything.”

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Minnesota historians note that Housley was practically born to play hockey from his earliest days in St. Paul.

He played both Junior and high school hockey before turning pro. After a brief stint with St. Paul of the United States Junior League in 1980-81, Phil put up stellar numbers for South St. Paul High School the following season. Playing in only 22 games, he scored 31 goals and amassed 65 points for the Packers.

In 1982-83, Housley stepped into the Sabres’ lineup and although a defenseman, he immediately added scoring punch to the Buffalo backline. During eight seasons with the Sabres, Housley scored 178 goals and accumulated 558 points while playing 608 games. His outstanding play earned him seven All-Star appearances and the honor of being named to the 1983 NHL All-Rookie team.

Nice stuff but the Buffalo crowd now is more interested in Phil delivering a playoff team. If you believe Laviolette, the chances are good because of four little words.

“He’s a smart guy!’

Or, better still, three little words.

Genius will out.