More than three decades after jumping straight from South St. Paul High School into the NHL as a player for the Buffalo Sabres, Stillwater boys’ hockey coach Phil Housley will make a similar transition as a coach after resigning from the Ponies to become an assistant coach for Nashville under head coach Barry Trotz, the Predators announced on Tuesday.
“Phil brings a unique skill set to our coaching staff,” General Manager David Poile said in a Predators press release. “He was one of the most talented offensive defensemen to play in the NHL, and he has worked extensively with young players during his coaching career. He will continue to focus his efforts on our young defensemen and assisting on the power play.”
Housley, 49, spent nine seasons as head coach for the Ponies and compiled a 109-109-21 record — which was a significant improvement for a program that in more than half a century has never won a conference or section championship. In the seven years prior to Housley’s arrival and the beefed up nonconference schedule he brought in with him, the Ponies went just 49-118-7.
“I don’t think I’m surprised based on the success he’s had at World Juniors and the World Championships. It’s a great opportunity for him,” Stillwater Activities Director Ricky Michel said. “If you’re trying to get to the next level of coaching, clearly, being an assistant coach in the NHL is definitely a step up from being a high school coach.”
As a player and coach, Housley has been active with USA Hockey from the start of his career, including a recent stint as an assistant coach for the U.S. National Team that just captured the bronze medal at the World Championships on Sunday in Sweden — the first medal for the Americans at this event in nine years. Housley guided Team USA to a gold medal at the World Junior Championships earlier this year and he previously served as an assistant coach for teams that won bronze medals at the World Junior Championships in 2007 and 2011.
A veteran of 21 NHL seasons and one of the most decorated American players in the league’s history, Housley ranks fourth all-time among defensemen with 1,232 points (338 goals, 894 assists), which ranks first among American-born defensemen. The seven-time NHL All-Star also ranks second in career games played by an American-born player.
Housley has been inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and the IIHF Hall of Fame. As a member of the United States team that earned a silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Housley scored the game-winning goal in a 3-2 semifinal victory over Russia.
“A coach with history as a defenseman who was offensively gifted and excelled on the power play is something we have never had on our coaching staff,” Trotz said. “His insight and viewpoint will bring a fresh perspective to our team.”
Michel said his office will work quickly to find Housley’s replacement once his official resignation arrives.
“I think Phil has stated he would continue with his hockey camp in June, but we probably want a new coach in as soon as possible so kids can meet him,” Michel said. “He’s a wonderful guy, wonderful to talk to and had some great insights. I know when Denny (Bloom) hired him he felt very lucky, and Stillwater hockey felt very lucky, to have him. If you could have one of the greatest American-born NHL players in the history of the game coach your kid, wouldn’t you want to take advantage of that?”