Former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Phil Housley took some time out from his wife, four children and the high school hockey team he coaches in Minnesota to trade e-mails and answer a few questions about his time in Chicago, his career and the current state of the Blackhawks.
Phil Housley may be the best defenseman NOT elected to the Hall of Fame. He was the first American-born player in history to go directly from high school to the NHL. Over a 21-season NHL career with the Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, Washington Capitals, Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs, he racked up 1,232 points — the second-most points of any American-born player in history.
But his NHL accomplishments don’t completely define him. In 2008, Housley received the Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the United States. He’s currently in his sixth season coaching the Stillwater (MN) High School hockey team, which includes his 18-year-old son, Wilson. After Housley’s “unfinished business” of getting Stillwater deep into the Minnesota State Hockey Tournament, he may begin entertaining other options.
“At some point I would like to get back into the NHL as a coach,” Housley said. “I enjoy the challenges and the grind! Hopefully I can get my foot in the door and get an opportunity. This is my next goal at this stage of my life.”
Jeff Bartl: You spent only one full season in Chicago in 2001-02, but it was a special year for the Blackhawks coming off a four-year playoff drought and making the playoffs that season. What do you remember most about your time here and that season in particular?
Phil Housley: Chicago was a great place to play and one of my favorites, even though I only spent 2 seasons there. I had and knew a lot of the players on the team already, so it made for an easy transition. It was an important year for me, not only to help Chicago get back into the playoffs, but the 2002 Olympics were in Salt Lake and I wanted to be part of that for Team USA. It was important that we had a good start to our season and remained consistent throughout. We had a very good team with scoring, defense, goaltending and depth. Coach Sutter gave us an identity as well, we were never going to be outworked!
JB: You played 21 NHL seasons and established yourself as one of the best defensemen in the game. What approach did you take to keep your game at such a high level over such a long period of time?
PH: I believe one of the most important parts of the game is fitness. How hard you work in the off-season will dictate what type of season you will have and how consistent you will be. I tried to come prepared each training camp with the attitude that I needed to prove myself, whether it was my first or last. This will help motivate and build consistency.
JB: The Stanley Cup eluded you in your very successful career, but you came close in 1998 with the Washington Capitals. Can you describe the emotions of playoff hockey and how it differs from the regular season, especially during a long playoff run like that?
PH: Not winning a Stanley Cup was disappointing. However, I still feel I made a major impact in the game. Playoff hockey is the best time of the season and its why you play the game. Every game is crucial and small things that you take for granted during the season get magnified during the playoffs. It truly is special to be a part of that atmosphere!
JB: The records, the accomplishments — most notably scoring the 2nd-most points of any American-born player in NHL history… how do you hope your former teammates, opponents and fans remember you as a player?
PH: Hopefully my teammates and opponents remember me as how much I enjoyed coming to the rink, being in the locker room, enjoying the competition and tried to make people around me better. Getting respect from your peers is always something that I hold in high regard.
JB: Do you think about someday being inducted into the Hall of Fame, like many feel you deserve to be? Is it something that is important to you?
PH: It would be a great honor to be inducted to the Hall of Fame someday and hopefully this day will come! It would certainly be the highlight of my career!
JB: The Blackhawks made a nice playoff run of their own last season, but come into this season with Stanley Cup aspirations. What do you feel are the strongest and weakest parts of this team, and do you think the ‘Hawks have enough to hoist the Cup in 2010?
PH: I believe the experience that the Hawks gained last year in the playoffs will be vital this year. They have what it takes, scoring, leadership and a solid defense corp. Goaltending, like every team in the playoffs, will make the difference down the stretch. They have great coaching and maybe this will be the year!