By STUART GROSKREUTZ – Stillwater Gazette
Phil Housley has a long history with USA Hockey and the Stillwater boys’ hockey coach will add to that legacy later this year after being named head coach for the U.S. National Junior Team on Monday.
Housley, a 21-year NHL veteran who played for Team USA in 11 international tournaments, will lead the Americans at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia.
Team USA general manager Jim Johannson offered this latest opportunity to Housley shortly after the South St. Paul native returned from his induction into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame in May.
"It’s an honor," Housley said. "I was very excited – what a great opportunity for me to represent my country. I was sort of in shock and I wasn’t prepared for that question, but certainly was very excited. You think about those things, being a head coach of the World Junior National Team, but you never know. I was happy they made me their head coach."
With Housley serving as an assistant coach, the U.S. National Junior Team won bronze medals in 2007 and 2011 and he was also on the staff for the 2011 Men’s National Team.
"We’re extremely pleased to have Phil coach our National Junior Team," Johannson said. "Having both played and coached internationally, Phil understands what it takes to be successful in a short tournament. He’s also used to relating to players of this age group, which will certainly be beneficial."
The World Junior Championships will be held from Dec. 26-Jan. 5, which requires Housley to miss as much as three weeks of Stillwater’s hockey season when you add a few exhibition games in Finland prior to the tournament.
Housley expressed confidence in Stillwater assistants Pete Hamilton, Paul Benson, Matt Doman and Jay Cates to keep things running smoothly with him 11 time zones away.
"I’ve had great support from Stillwater High School and administration," Housley said. "I’ll probably miss one more game than 2011 when it was in Buffalo, but I’m very confident leaving the team in the hands of my assistant coaches who have been with me for quite a long time."
Ohio State head coach Mark Osiecki and University of Minnesota assistant coach Grant Potulny will assist Housley in Russia, while those two plus Gophers coach Don Lucia, Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato and Boston College assistant coach Greg Brown will participate in the evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Aug. 4-11.
"I’m honored to be asked to coach this team and look forward to the challenge," Housley said. "The depth of our player pool is as good as it has ever been and I’m sure it will be a challenge to settle on which players will represent our country in Ufa."
Housley admitted there are some differences between coaching high school players and this country’s best players under the age of 20, especially when working with them for just a short period of time.
"This is really important, not only for USA Hockey, but for all the individuals that are going to form the team," the coach said. "They’re getting watched by scouts and playing against great competition on a bigger ice surface. It’s high-end talent so you can implement things really quickly and they can make adjustments. You can tell them what to do and they can do it, but there’s still small details and everything that goes with execution within a system and special teams, but it’s great to have kids that can really make those quick adjustments."
Housley, who went straight to the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres out of South St. Paul, played for seven U.S. Men’s National Teams from 1982 to 2002. He helped Team USA win a silver medal at the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City in 2002. He ended his NHL career with 1,232 points (338 goals and 894 assists), which at the time was the most among all American-born defensemen.
The National Junior Team has placed among the top three two of the past three years, including a gold medal showing in 2010.
"They won it in 2010 and took bronze in 2011 and last year was a little bit of a setback so we’re looking back to getting on top and giving ourselves an opportunity to reach the gold medal game, that’s our goal."
n Housley was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame on May 20, a ceremony that capped the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
He was previously inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.
"It was certainly great to have my family with me – and my daughters’ boyfriends, for that matter – and it was just a great event," said Housley, whose daughter Reide missed her graduation ceremony at St. Thomas to join the festivities. The crew also spent four days in London before returning home.
Housley was joined by Pavel Bure, Raimo Helminen, Milan Novy and Andy Murray in this year’s induction class while Kent Angus was honored with the Paul Loicq Award.
"It’s a sort of humble feeling that you’re up there, especially with the class that was with me," Housley said. "What a great class to be a part of. It’s great to be recognized and I’m certainly thankful to all the coaches and USA Hockey for giving me the opportunity when I was a high school kid."