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Sabres hire Phil Housley as coach, bring back piece of history

It just made sense. Phil Housley started his playing career in Buffalo. He should become a first-time head coach in Buffalo, too.

The deal is done.

The Sabres hired Housley as the 18th coach in franchise history Thursday. The move completes a whirlwind spring for Housley, who was Nashville’s assistant coach during the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup finals.

“Based on his experience as a player and coach, we think Phil is uniquely qualified to be our head coach and to help us achieve our organizational goals,” said Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill. “His approach to the game aligns with the way we envision our hockey team playing, and we’re excited to see where his leadership will take us in the future.”

The Sabres will reintroduce Housley to Buffalo with a news conference at 4 p.m. Thursday in KeyBank Center.

The 53-year-old has spent the past four years in Nashville, earning praise for running one of the NHL’s top defense corps. The Predators hired Housley in 2013 after he coached the U.S. world junior team to a gold medal and earned a bronze as an assistant for the men’s world championship squad.

Longtime Sabres fans no doubt recall "Wowie" Housley as the redheaded wunderkind who starred on the Buffalo blue line. Drafted sixth overall in 1982, the Minnesota high school star jumped right to the NHL. His rookie season featured 19 goals and 66 points in 77 games, plus three goals and seven points in 10 playoff games.

It was just the start. Housley had a 21-year career, including the first eight with the Sabres. He ranks fifth in franchise history with 558 points in 608 games and holds every single-season record for defensemen.

He retired in 2003 with the most points (1,232) and games played (1,495) by an American-born player. The Hockey Hall of Fame inducted Housley in 2015.

Housley began coaching in his home state in 2004, lifting struggling Stillwater High School to respectability during his nine seasons in Minnesota. USA Hockey noticed, hiring him as an assistant for the world junior team in 2007 and 2011 before giving him the top job in 2013.

Phil Housley was an assistant coach for the United States at the World Cup of Hockey last year. (Getty Images)

Nashville hired him as an assistant to Barry Trotz, and Housley was the only member of the staff to survive the transition to Peter Laviolette in 2014.

"He's detailed. He runs good meetings, and he has the attention of the players," Laviolette said during the finals. "I think his game, his background, the player that he was, the hockey sense that he has, the way that he's able to communicate to the players is one of his biggest assets.

“He's a smart guy that does a very good job communicating that."

After firing coach Dan Bylsma and General Manager Tim Murray in April, Sabres owner Terry Pegula listed communication as one of the four cornerstones for his next hires. The others were discipline, structure and character.

Pegula no doubt feels he’s found those with Housley and Botterill.

"He's one of the best defensemen ever to play,” Predators defenseman P.K. Subban said of Housley. “He commands your respect right away. When you have a guy like that to come back to the bench to, you want to soak in everything. I just want to be a sponge to take in everything he says and does."

Phil Housley receives his Hockey Hall of Fame ring from Lanny McDonald in 2015. (Getty Images)

Housley emerged from a coaching pack that included New York Rangers associate coach Scott Arniel and new Florida bench boss Bob Boughner.

Since being hired in mid-May, Botterill has said he wanted a coach in place by the NHL Draft on June 23. The interview process for free agents begins June 25, and Housley will be there for the chats.

He’s a coach who knows his way around Buffalo.

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