BUFFALO – Today, Phil Housley’s 32nd wedding anniversary, he forgot to get his wife, Karin, a card. Sure enough, when the legendary Sabres defenseman returned to his room after meeting with general manager Jason Botterill this morning, he noticed a card from her on the table.
Housley, however, had something better for their special day.
“I said, ‘I’m the new head coach of the Buffalo Sabres,” Housley said this afternoon during his introductory news conference inside KeyBank Center. “I said, ‘Happy anniversary.’”
How many coaches can say they’ve celebrated an anniversary like that? Housley is the 18th coach in franchise history and the seventh former player to lead the Sabres. He replaced Dan Bylsma, who was fired April 20.
Housley, a Hall of Famer, couldn’t hide his excitement. Clearly, the Sabres, a team he joined as an 18-year-old in 1982-83, hold a special place in his heart with the city.
“I don’t think it’s really sunk in,” Housley said with Karin nearby in the front row. “I know my wife and I and my family are very excited to come back to Buffalo and be a part of this community. But I’m really looking forward to the challenge. I don’t think people realize how pumped I am about coming back to Buffalo, being a part of this organization and trying to do something special here.”
Why is Housley, who just finished a successful four-year stint as an assistant with the Nashville Predators, the right man to lead the Sabres?
Botterill said Housley’s organizational and communication skills and track record developing young talent – the Predators made the Stanley Cup final because their defense was perhaps the NHL’s best – stood out.
“Phil’s extremely prepared for his meetings, detailed, goes about in a very concise way,” Botterill said. “Second is just his communication skills. Whether star players, up-and-coming defensemen, he’s found a way to interact with them … on a personal level. And thirdly, just his track of development – whether it’s in high school, whether it’s in juniors, whether it’s the National Hockey League – he gets the most out of his players; he gets the most out of his young players.”
Here’s more from Housley and Botterill, who was hired May 11. Check back later for a full story.
Housley wants to build a relationship with young Sabres star Jack Eichel, who probably didn’t see eye-to-eye with Bylsma:
“(Nashville defenseman) P.K. Subban was a tremendous personality. I think I can use that experience in trying to get to Jack. I think it’s about breeding a relationship and getting to know the player, what he’s about and what he brings to the team. He’s a terrific talent.
“It’s about creating relationships with those players. They got to know where you stand; you have to know where they stand. I think it’s a culture thing, too – build a foundation, set the standards.”
Housley, one of the greatest offensive defensemen in NHL history, wants to play fast hockey:
“I anticipate an attacking mindset, playing with speed, playing with pace, playing fast. That includes a five-man attack. Our defense is going to be very involved in the play.”
On his memories of Buffalo during his eight-year stint:
“It was fantastic. I enjoyed it. People in Buffalo are very passionate about their team, and if they see an honest effort, they’re going to support you. I just remember the crowds in the Aud, the fans in the rink high-fiving you after the game. It’s an exciting time for me … but I’m going to draw on those memories because it’s an exciting sports town.”
Botterill on not interviewing Rick Tocchet, an assistant coach believed to be a leading candidate:
“Rick is going to be a head coach in the very near future. But I just felt it wasn’t a situation where I needed to go through the interview process working with him for three-plus years (in Pittsburgh).”