BUFFALO – Anaheim Ducks coach Randy Carlyle still remembers a skinny rookie named Phil Housley entering the NHL fresh out of high school in 1982.
“I can remember Phil coming here as an 18-year-old defenseman and looking and saying, ‘Holy crow, how’s this kid going to last?’”
Well, Housley lasted a long time, playing 21 seasons, including eight with the Sabres, in what would be a Hall of Fame career.
But 36 years ago, Housley, as he has said in the past, “weighed 165 pounds soaking wet.”
“He found a way,” Carlyle said prior to Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Sabres inside KeyBank Center. “Superior skills, skating skills, great hockey sense, a lot stronger than people give him credit for.”
Carlyle and Housley, who now coaches the Sabres, crossed paths in Winnipeg, where they were defense partners, neighbors and travel partners over three seasons with the Jets.
“He was in the voting for the Norris Trophy because he played with me,” Carlyle joked.
Thanks to a 23-goal, 86-point campaign, Housley finished third in the Norris voting (league’s best defenseman) in 1991-92. Eighteen goals and a career-high 97 points helped him finish fifth in the balloting in 1992-93.
To Carlyle, who won the Norris in 1980-81, Housley was far ahead of his time.
“Howie was a guy, in that game, in that era, he was a modern-day player as you would describe today,” Carlyle said. “Very fluid with the puck, puck-mover, good first pass, very mobile, retrieve pucks, wanted the puck all the time.
“That’s one thing that you learn about the best players in the league have the puck a lot, and he was one of those players that wanted the puck all the time.”
Carlyle and Housley are a rare breed. Most former stars don’t go on to run NHL benches. Of the 31 NHL coaches, Carlyle and Housley enjoyed the most successful playing careers.
Housley said Carlyle, who won the Stanley Cup in 2007 with the Ducks, is “a master of match-ups.”
“He’s really detailed in his structure,” Housley said.
Housley said he wanted to counter Carlyle’s matching by getting in a rhythm and rolling four lines.
The Sabres’ loaded schedule limited practice time last week. Saturday’s game, the final contest before a four-day holiday break, ended a stretch of five games in eight days.
The Sabres took Wednesday off and did not hold a morning skate prior to Friday’s 2-1 loss in Washington. While they likely wouldn’t have skated Saturday morning, they stayed home after landing in Buffalo about 2 a.m. following about an hour delay leaving Washington.
“We can’t control the other things like plane troubles and getting back here into Buffalo, but we certainly can manage our schedule and choose the times to practice heavy and try to take it easy, just knowing that our guys are in a grind,” Housley said.
Who does Housley consult with to decide if the Sabres should practice?
“It’s a little bit of everything with the performance staff, with the leadership group,” Housley said. “They have a good vibe and lot of experience on their side just to get their information and what they think we should do and also our coaching staff. We feel we’ve made some really good decisions on what the players need.”
The Sabres don’t play again until Thursday in St. Louis.
Since defensemen Jake McCabe and Lawrence Pilut returned from injuries against the Capitals, the Sabres sent defenseman Brendan Guhle back to the Rochester Americans on Saturday.
Guhle, 21, had zero points in two outings.
Housley said winger Jason Pominville, who missed his second game with an undisclosed injury, skated again Saturday and is “getting close.”
Teammate Rasmus Ristolainen accidentally flattened Pominville when they collided during a line change Tuesday.
Sabres winger Remi Elie replaced Pominville again. Saturday was Elie’s 10th game this season and the 100th of his three-year career.
Notes: Sabres captain Jack Eichel’s two assists Saturday gave him his 18th multi-point game, tying him for the league lead with Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon. Eichel also tied his career high. … The Sabres scratched defensemen Nathan Beaulieu (upper body) and Matt Hunwick (healthy). … The Sabres are 9-2-1 against the Pacific Division this season and 6-0-1 at home.