Even after general manager George McPhee conceded Saturday the Washington Capitals are close to naming an assistant coach, Adam Oates wasn’t willing to say exactly who it would be. But the first-time head coach shed some light.
“To have a guy that played in the game that I’ve had some personal time with is very important to me,” Oates said.
Begin speculation. Could it be Rick Tocchet? Calle Johansson? In 19 professional seasons, Oates played with hundreds of teammates, including several, from Dave Lewis and Gord Murphy to Craig Berube and Joe Mullen, who are currently serving as NHL assistants.
The announcement could come in the next few days, given that McPhee said, “We have agreed and we just have to iron out a few more things,” with the man who will be Oates‘ first hire. But the Caps will still have another spot to fill in the not-too-distant future.
And if Oates is looking for another ex-teammate to round out his staff, Phil Housley might be worth a significant look. Housley, who has coached at Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota for eight years, will lead the U.S. world junior team this winter and looks poised to move up the ranks.
“Now that my kids have gotten older, I think I’m taking really a lot more seriously making that decision. Right now, I’m sort of at a year-to-year decision. You can’t really say, ‘Well I want to go coach in the NHL.’ It doesn’t happen that way,” Housley said in a phone interview Saturday. “I will be the high school coach this year. If there’s an offer from a team I certainly would take the offer seriously and look at it because you don’t get to say really when you want to go coach or where you want to go coach.”
Much like Oates and Dale Hunter, Housley enjoyed a long professional career without capturing a Stanley Cup. And he has spent his post-playing career in coaching, with Stillwater and in several stints with USA Hockey.
Housley fell in love with coaching in Switzerland as co-coach of the U.S. Under-18 team in 2004.
“It’s the closest to the game without playing,” he said. “You’re right in the action, you’re feeling the emotion.”
Elected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007, Housley held the record for most points by an American with 1,232 before Mike Modano passed him. He had a pretty good grip on being a defenseman but admits coaching is still a learning process as he dreams of one day getting to the NHL.
“I continue to learn and gain experience. I’m really happy where I am right now as far as a coach. I’m really enjoying it. But I can see myself getting to the next level and trying to get to the NHL because we all have goals,” he said. “Whether we’re players, you have your short- and long-term goals where you see yourself, you have those goals as well as a coach. I really, I think, started out in a good area coaching high school kids and learning to be patient and really teach the game with a more basic structure where they can understand it. But at the same time I’ve learned a lot.”
Serving as head coach of the U.S. world junior team is another major step in the 48-year-old’s progress, even though he has plenty of experience behind the bench in various tournaments.
“You’re the one that’s going to be making the calls and running the bench, in key situations what kind of decisions are you going to make,” Housley said. “I’m looking forward to it. For me, it’s more of a challenge.”
He played two full seasons with the Caps and along with Oates was part of the team that went to the Cup Final in 1998.