Phil Housley’s house was a quiet place on gamedays.
As the Hall of Fame defenseman lay napping during afternoons, his wife Karin did whatever she could to keep their four children calm.
This may sound like an impossible task, but for the Housleys it was just normal.
“I remember times when my siblings and I would be downstairs playing soccer – we loved soccer and floor hockey – and my mom would come downstairs and yell if we were being too loud,” Reide Housley said. “We would just play ... She might have locked us outside a couple of times but we stuck together and found mischief wherever we went.”
Housley’s hockey life blended with family life for his entire career. Phil and Karin were engaged at the age of 18. Their first child, Taylor, was born when they were 22.
“You go back and you think, ‘Wow, I had three kids under the age of four at one point,’” Phil said. “I know it wasn’t easy for (Karin), especially with me traveling and being on the road and no help back home. It had to be hard.”
Some players make the Hockey Hall of Fame going through the typical progression of being young, learning about life during their youthful NHL years and eventually settling down into family life later in their careers.
Others are just fine without family through their careers, moving into that next point in their lives after they’re done with the NHL.
For Phil Housley, family helped him make the Hockey Hall of Fame. He will be inducted Monday, Nov. 9 in Toronto in class that will feature Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger, Angela Ruggiero, Bill Hay, and Peter Karmanos Jr.
If he needed a shoulder to cry on, Karin and his four children were there. If he needed to be with loved ones to get his mind off the sport, he could escape into their comfort. And they willingly played the role of a support system that enabled him to notch 1,232 points – the most ever by an American born defenseman.
“The way we went about life with Karin and me I thought we planned it out pretty good,” Phil said. “It worked out real well the way we did it.”
Hockey is a business and Phil saw this first hand. He played with eight NHL teams from 1982-83 through 2002-03, which meant his family had to move many times during his career. Taylor and Reide were born in Buffalo. Wilson was born in Winnipeg and Avery was born in Washington, D.C.
This was where Karin took over. In order to lessen the burden on Phil, who was often involved with travel and games, she made sure he could stay focused on his career.
“It was a lot of work, I won’t lie. But it was rewarding and to see him do so well, that was his dream. And really supporting him through all those years and taking care of all the stuff on the back end,” said Karin, who is now a Minnesota State Senator. “I was thinking about that today – not everybody knows what we do go through, but it’s also a lot of fun and it’s a really, really good life and it’s a really fun life. I wouldn’t change anything, not even one of the moves – loved every city we lived in. When each one of your kids is born in a different city, it kind of builds character and it builds character with the kids and it made the kids really strong.”
Said Phil, “There was a lot of stress on them when I was playing. Living in wins and losses and my moods, I’m sure there were a lot of times where they were tiptoeing around the house. They’ve always had a great attitude and that’s what I really think about – all those times and all those games how important a role they played in all of it.”
Phil chipped in when he could on family life. His children note that he was an excellent chef, and his steak dinners, with sides of risotto, asparagus, caprese salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and French baguette bread are still a family favorite.
“He was a great cook too, which we all enjoyed because family dinners growing up were a huge part of our family,” Wilson said. “We still continue to do them now which is usually my favorite dinners.”
Even on the ice, Phil would give tributes to his children.
“Though my dad’s schedule has always been busy he has always found different ways to make me feel special,” Taylor said. “When he was still playing and after he would score, he would do a specific celebration to shout out to us kids.”
Even to this day, as a Nashville Predators assistant coach, Phil wears different ties for different children to let them know it’s their special ‘tie’ night.
There was doubt with Phil near the end of his career. After he signed with the Washington Capitals and later lost the 1998 Stanley Cup Final to the Detroit Red Wings, he worried about his hockey future. He was 33 and the NHL’s ‘dead puck era’ was in full swing. It wasn’t a great time to be an offensive defenseman and he started to wonder how many years he had left.
He had just 31 points in 64 games in 1997-98 with Washington. But was able to rebound with years of 54 and 55 points the next two seasons with the Calgary Flames in his mid-30s.
Phil notes how his family enabled him to rebound from that difficult period to help him regain his confidence and perhaps prolong his career.
“You think about, ‘Is this going to be the end of my career’ and Karin had a great shoulder to lean on when I went through some tough times and whether you made a big mistake in the game, and you’re getting beat up in the paper or you’re trying to find your way to get some confidence back and she, more importantly, was there to listen,” Phil said. “I know deep down she couldn’t do anything about it but she always believed in me.”
Phil doesn’t worry that it took him this long to make the Hall of Fame. He retired after the 2002-03 season – at the time as the highest scoring American in NHL history. Was it because he never won a Stanley Cup? Was he underrated because he generally played for small market teams?
“I don’t know if I was underrated,” Phil said. “The other teams knew that had to be aware of me.”
No matter how long it took, the day has finally arrived. And the entire Housley clan is expected to be in Toronto for the occasion.
“He never gives up on a dream or hope,” Avery said. “He works his hardest to achieve what he wants and with hard work comes amazing results. I'm very proud of my father and all he has done.”
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