Modano hones in on "Wowie" Housley
Wednesday, 08.22.2007 / 4:40 PM / Feature
By Bob Matuszak
Stars center Mike Modano is expected to make hockey history sometime in the first few weeks of the 2007-08 season, as he is just seven points away from becoming the all-time leader in points among all American players.
Modano passed the great Joe Mullen in American goals this past March when Mo scored his 503rd career goal at Nashville on March 17. It was a big moment and one that Modano is very proud of.
“Goal 503 was special and it is a milestone I am proud of,” he said. “The points mark is just as special because it really is a big deal to be the all-time leading scorer in American history. There have been some really good players and I’m proud to have my name associated with Joe Mullen and Phil Housley, among others.”
When 18-year-old Phil Housley showed up at his first training camp after being selected by the Buffalo Sabres with the sixth overall pick in 1982, then-captain Lindy Ruff thought there was some sort of mistake.
The boyish-looking Housley looked more like a kid that had mistakenly found his way to the Sabres locker room than the defenseman that Hall of Fame coach and general manager Scotty Bowman pegged as the organization's next superstar.
"I thought he was 12 when he first got here," said Ruff, the current Sabres coach. "Nobody could have told me he was 18. I looked at him and thought, 'Boy, he's got to get a couple more years of bantam in before he can play in the NHL.'"
With his slick-skating and dynamic playmaking ability with the puck, Housley quickly earned the respect of Ruff, his teammates, and the league as a whole, collecting 66 points in 77 games as a rookie.
Soon after his first game, the secret was out on the Minnesota native, whose dynamic rushes up the ice from the back end brought Sabres fans to their feet every night.
Housley wasn't big or tall, and looked as if he would weigh about 150-pounds soaking wet. But what he did have was speed -- and lots of it.
"He was a great player and we definitely had to react to him when he was out on the ice," said Stars coach Dave Tippett, who opposed Housley many times when he played for Hartford, Buffalo's Adams Division rival. "He was a guy that always looked for a way to get behind the defense. You had to keep your eyes on him or else he would beat you down the ice."
When all was said and done in his career, Housley left the game in 2003 as the top U.S. born scorer with 1,232 points in 1,495 career games. His name, though, will soon be below Mike Modano's on that particular all-time points list, as the Dallas center is poised to eclipse the mark. En route, Modano also passed Mullen on the all-time American-born player's goal scoring list.
Ironically, the two players were big influences early on in Modano’s career.
"They are great guys, and they were fun to play with," Modano said. "When I was young I had the opportunity to be around them and play with them. It benefited me, just how
they approached the game and played it every day, and how consistent they were."
Modano broke Mullen’s mark in his 17th season while the Housley record will come in his 18th. And while Housley played for nine different teams, and Mullen toiled for three organizations, Modano has skated every year for the Stars since being drafted in 1988.
"It has meant a lot to stay here from start to finish and be here through the changes, good times, bad times. As years go by I wanted to make sure that happened," he said.
It’s no fluke that Modano has been a model of consistency since entering the league in 1989. Coming into this year with 1,226 points in 1,238 games, Modano has been driven in his attempt to have his name appear on the official scoresheet at least once in each and every game he plays.
Housley, who played in Buffalo for the first eight seasons of his career, also was consistent in his play, and was inducted into the Sabres Hall of Fame in February. He was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.
"Scotty Bowman and the Sabres took a chance on a kid from a Minnesota high school, and I will never forget that," he said.
Housley was certainly one of the elite defenseman in the '80s and 90's, though he was never able to win a Stanley Cup. In early 2000, he played in his 1,257th NHL game, which at the time was the most by an American. Ageless Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios has since broke Housley's record of 1,495 career games played.
With the end of his marvelous career now in sight, Modano has been doing some reminiscing as he passes the two milestones. The difference now is the records he is on the cusp of breaking are those for his country.
"You never really have those thoughts coming into the league or playing, but I think I do more so now," Modano said. "Now that I'm winding down and my career is almost over, and I'm able to achieve those things and maybe go down as one of the tops in the U.S.A., it's certainly nice to have when I retire."