Phil Housley was introduced as the 18th head coach in Buffalo Sabres history yesterday. He was drafted by the organization in the first round of the 1982 draft and played eight years with the Sabres before moving on to play with seven other teams around the League.
Housley seemed like he was the top target for new general manager Jason Botterill. Reports indicated yesterday that Botterill never spoke with Rick Tocchet, Jacques Martin or Todd Reirden. It’s possible we don’t know every candidate that was interviewed, but it’s not a big leap to say that Housley was the top target.
I don’t think people realize how pumped I am about coming back to Buffalo – Phil Housley
Climbing the Coaching Ladder
Housley has had an interesting journey to get to where he is today. He got his first coaching opportunity with USA Hockey shortly after he retired, propelling him into his career behind the bench. He described the feeling as being the closest to the emotions of playing the game, which pulled him in right away.
He got his first head coaching job at Stillwater Area High School in Stillwater, Minnesota. For close to ten years he put in the work to rebuild the program back to a good place. For those who are unaware, in Minnesota, high school hockey is big. Similar to how important high school football is in Texas.
Housley really stepped into the light as the head coach of Team USA in the 2013 World Junior Championships. He led that group to a gold medal in the tournament, which was captained by Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe. A few months later Housley picked up his first NHL coaching position.
He was the assistant coach of the Nashville Predators from 2013 through last week, where he helped mold Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis. Housley became a top head coaching candidate because of his success developing one of the top defense units in the League.
Housley a Natural Fit
Now, Housley goes from arguably the best defense group in the league to the worst. The blue line is the obvious weakness for the Sabres and the main priority to address heading into the summer. Bringing in a coach that can immediately help that area makes Housley a natural fit for the job.
He also appears to have the same philosophy as Botterill. “I really believe in development,” Housley said in his introductory press conference on Thursday. Development is something that Botterill has preached since taking over as the head of the hockey department a little over a month ago.
I think the guys will be excited play the brand of hockey that I’m going to bring forward – Phil Housley
They also seem to be on the same page about how the game should be played. Housley described his system as an “attacking mindset, playing with speed, playing with pace.” In particular, he focused on the back end when he spoke of his system. “Our defense is going to be very involved in the play,” said Housley. He also talked about how he wanted it to be a five-man unit on the attack to cause opponents to make mistakes and get out of position.
Players like Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Zach Bogosian and Brendan Guhle can reap the benefits immediately under Housley. It’s not all about the defense though. Housley can implement a system to get the club to play as a unit. Something we didn’t see a lot of last season. Everyone will be aware of what their job is and won’t be held back with the attacking style. The new hockey department should have Sabres fans excited for the future.