Houser (goal) tends to business on the ice

Boardman native among top goalie prospects for next week’s NHL Draft

By Tom Williams

Two years ago, some hockey observers thought London Knights goaltender Michael Houser had an excellent chance to be selected during the NHL Draft at Los Angeles’ Staples Center.

It didn’t happen then nor last year when the draft was conducted in St. Paul, Minn.

Houser, the son of Boardman allergist Dr. William Houser, channeled those rejections into one of the most amazing seasons ever for the Ontario Hockey League.

Houser, 19, tended goal 85 times for the Knights who won the OHL championship then advanced to the Memorial Cup final where they fell 2-1 in overtime to the Shawinigan Cataractes.

Houser was named the OHL goaltender of the year and won the Red Tilson Award as the junior hockey league’s most valuable player. He later was named the Canadian Hockey League’s goaltender of the year, the first American to win that honor.

“I’m not quite sure it’s sunk in yet, but I’m sure it will,” said Houser who attended Boardman’s St. Charles School before the family moved to Wexford, Pa. “It’s a huge honor.”

His grandparents are Mahoning Valley residents — John and Mary Babyak of Boardman and Bill and Carol Houser of Austintown.

Ten years ago, Dr. Houser and his wife, Monica, moved their family to Wexford, because Michael, his sister Shannon and his brothers Nick and Alex were all playing youth hockey in the Pittsburgh area.

“We were going over there at least three times a week,” Houser said. “It got to be a little too much.”

In 2008-09, Houser played 32 games with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League, whose members now include the Youngstown Phantoms.

In his first season in London, he was a backup, posting a 17-4-1 record. Last season, he took over as the Knights’ starter, going 30-19-5.

This season, Houser played in 62 of the Knights’ 68 games, posting a record of 46 wins, 15 losses and one shootout loss. His goals-against average was 2.47 as he made 1,862 saves for the Ontario team.

“I felt great, but it felt even better to have such a great team season,” said Houser of his third season with the Knights. “And it was that much better to win the championship.”

Before the season, Houser knew he was going to be the Knights’ workhorse. Ian Jenkins, who was slated to be the Knights’ backup goalie, was killed in a truck accident.

“I knew I was going to play a lot of games, with the backup spot in question,” Houser said. “I just had to make sure that I went all out and gave our team the chance to win every night.

“The more I did that, the more they kept playing me.”

His playing time increased when backup Tyson Teichmann suffered mononucleosis in November.

“I think I played in 30 straight games,” Houser said. “I felt fine — I wasn’t tired.”

The OHL says Houser stopped at least 30 shots in 36 different games including six games with 40 or more saves.

The Knights cruised to the OHL’s Western Conference Midwest Division title then went 16-3 in the postseason, defeating the Niagara Ice Dogs, 4-1, in the championship round.

Houser said this year’s performance was a little unexpected.

“You never really know how it will turn out,” Houser said. “We had a young team with some skilled guys. And then at the trade deadline we added a couple of pieces who really made a difference.”

Houser’s future may be determined next weekend at Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center where the NHL Draft will be conducted next weekend.

“I’m not really sure yet,” said Houser of his future. He has one more year of eligibility in the OHL.

“I could go back for one more season,” Houser said.

Or he could turn pro even if he’s not picked during the seven-round draft.

Houser said he tries to avoid draft speculation. The NHL’s Calgary Flames rank Houser as 16th on their list of North American goalies.

“I’ve heard a couple of things, but I’m trying not to read too much into it,” Houser said. “If I get picked, then great; if not, that’s fine too.

“It’s not the end of the world if I don’t get drafted.”

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