NEW YORK – On weekends as a kid, Phil Housley told his mom to wake him up early. There were 10 outdoor rinks in South St. Paul, Minn., and Housley wanted to be the first one on them.
"I remember a lot about being outside," the Buffalo Sabres coach said Saturday. "We had some really good ice surfaces, and there's nothing like being out there by yourself skating around. You're imagining things, creating things until the rest of the guys came and you started to play pick-up."
As he stickhandled through the fresh air, Housley dreamed big and embraced hockey.
"I don’t know how many hours I spent doing that, but I just loved being around the rink," he said.
Housley is going to love being around the rink the next two days. The Sabres will practice outside in Citi Field on Sunday, and it will serve as their warm-up for Monday's Winter Classic against the New York Rangers.
"We're going to have fun," Housley said. "We get two days to enjoy this. It's going to be a great thing for Buffalo and our organization to represent the community and our fans in Buffalo.
"We're going to enjoy it."
Housley will enjoy it more because his team looks more like a team. There are still lulls for the 10-20-8 club, but there have been good moments, too. Buffalo is 4-3-4 in the last 11 games, and it rallied for a 4-3 overtime victory Friday against New Jersey.
"It's great to go in with a win. I'm not going to lie," Housley said after returning to the Devils' rink in Newark, N.J., for a brief practice. "The vibe on the team is really good right now, and we're looking forward to it."
The Sabres were just more than a minute away from entering the Winter Classic on a two-game winning streak. The New York Islanders scored late on a reviewed goal and picked up an OT win Wednesday.
"It's been great the way we've been playing the last week or two," Housley said. "Even though the results aren't there, you can see when we play a certain style we're very effective.
"Our guys are just doing the right things. We're really heavy on the forecheck. We're cleaning up our own end. We're coming back as five guys and getting through the neutral zone quickly. When we get on the forecheck, we're very effective. I like the aggressiveness that we have. Our D are slamming the walls, keeping the play in the offensive zone.
"We're finding ways to play a better brand and style of game."
Housley hopes they keep it up Monday. The hockey world will be watching.
"We're very fortunate to be in this Winter Classic," Housley said. "Being a first-time head coach and being right into it is a blessing for me. It's going to be a great experience not only for me and the coaching staff but our players and management and their families. We're going to take it all in."
Story topics: phil housley