Phil Housley played eight seasons with the Sabres. ©2015, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Hall of Famer Phil Housley grateful for early days with Sabres

BUFFALO – It was September 1982, and before the Sabres headed to Montreal for their first exhibition game, the team bus stopped at a hotel to pick up some players.

Phil Housley, an 18-year-old just months removed from high school, thought the bus was going to another hotel. So the green rookie, who was with his girlfriend, Karin, decided to bring his future wife on the bus, a big no-no.

“Everybody was on the bus,” Housley, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame earlier this month, recalled Wednesday.

That’s right, everybody, including legendary coach Scotty Bowman, who was sitting in the first row.

Teammate Lindy Ruff, who would become Housley’s close friend, leaned over and said, “Uh, Hower, you’re not supposed to have your girlfriend on the bus.”

So Housley escorted Karin off the bus.

“Believe me, it was one of the most embarrassing moments,” Housley said.

When the Sabres finished the game in Montreal, Housley earned second star honors in his debut. After his stick salute on the ice, he saw Bowman on the bench.

“I thought, ‘Here, I’m getting sent down to the minors,’” Housley said. “He just said, ‘Good game, kid.’ I knew it was good at that time.”

Housley morphed into one of the greatest offensive defensemen in NHL history, amassing 338 goals and 1,232 points in 1,495 games. He often gets nostalgic talking about Buffalo and his eight seasons with the Sabres, and Wednesday, when Housley was in town as an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators, was no different.

He talked about the Sabres’ first-round sweep of the Canadiens in 1983, being teammates with Gilbert Perreault and the awe of playing in the Montreal Forum and seeing Guy Lafleur, his idol.

Housley credits Bowman, who took a chance drafting him sixth overall, for helping him prosper.

“You hear the rumors about Scotty and just him being a great coach,” Housley said. “The first time I met him I thought he was a great man. He really allowed me to do and play the game that he wanted me to play. I think that was important. He didn’t put too much pressure on me. He sort of just let me play.

“The leaders of that team my first year were excellent and made me feel really comfortable. But Scotty was great in developing me as a young man.”

The Sabres honored Housley with a montage of highlights during the first period.

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When the Nashville Predators’ dressing room opened Wednesday afternoon, some reporters walked over to former Sabres enigma Cody Hodgson, exchanged pleasantries and started talking to the 25-year-old.

After spouting a few clichés about his new team and city, Hodgson, who had a buyout exercised on the final four seasons of his six-year, $25.5 million contract in June following an awful 2014-15 campaign, became prickly.

Clearly, the end of his four-year run with the Sabres – he scored six goals last season – is a touchy subject for the forward.

To wit:

Was it tough to look for new job?

“I don’t really want to think about it now,” he said. “You can think about that as much time as you want. At the end of the day, this is where I am right now. I’m happy to be with the Nashville Predators.”

Was he surprised about the buyout?

“Guys, I’m not going to talk about this now,” an upset Hodgson said. “I just want to talk about the game.”

With that, the interview ended after less than 90 seconds.

Hodgson, who signed a one-year, $1.05 million contract with the Predators, began Wednesday with one goal and four points in 20 games this season. He scored his only goal in the 12th game.

The Sabres owe him $6.333 million over eight years with the buyout.

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Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said goalie Robin Lehner didn’t suffer a minor setback in his recovery from a high-ankle sprain, something TSN reported Tuesday.

Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said goalie Robin Lehner didn’t suffer a minor setback in his recovery from a high-ankle sprain, something TSN reported Tuesday.

“I don’t think I would call it a setback,” Bylsma said. “He got to the point where he started upping his rehab level. He had to back off that a little bit. He kind of tried to take the next step, and the next step, he just has to wait a little bit longer on that.”

Shortly after Bylsma spoke, Lehner was seen leaving the arena in a walking boot on a scooter. The Sabres said Lehner would miss six to 10 weeks after getting injured Oct. 8, opening night.

Meanwhile, center Zemgus Girgensons returned Wednesday after an upper-body injury sidelined him four games. Girgensons replaced winger Tyler Ennis, a surprise scratch with an upper-body injury.

Bylsma said Ennis’ injury is new and he needs further evaluation. There’s no timetable.

Winger Evander Kane, who was questionable with a lower-body injury, played.

A bone bruise sidelined defenseman Mark Pysyk a fourth straight game.

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