Monica and Bill Houser were at home Monday morning when both of their phones went off at the same time.
Both of them received the same text from their son. It contained three words:
“I’m starting tonight.”
The words sunk in immediately.
Hours after that text arrived, Monica and Bill and Michael’s brother Alex watched as Michael made 34 saves in a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders.
Then they watched as their son was named the game’s first star.
“He has never been a doubter,” says Monica. “The kid works so hard. He would never bring up that he wanted to make it to the NHL but you knew that was his vision.”
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Houser is a battler.
He battled as the Islanders buzzed early in the game on Monday.
He battled with four minutes and 30 seconds remaining in the third period when New York’s leading scorer Mathew Barzal snagged a puck off a turnover, curled into the slot and fired.
Houser made the save.
There were the three saves in succession in the first two minutes of the game. The lightning-quick leg stop on a wrap-around chance by Anthony Beauvillier. He even got some help from a goal post on a breakaway opportunity by Brock Nelson.
But Houser settled right in and his teammates seemed to settle with him. Buffalo fell behind 2-0 but battled back. They managed tie tie the game on goals by Tage Thompson and Rasmus Asplund and then went ahead to stay 30 seconds after the Houser stop on Barzal when Sam Reinhart deflected a puck into the Islanders net.
The only pucks to find their way past Houser came on deflections. One hit the stick of Sabres defenceman Henri Jokiharju and the second was tipped home in front of the Buffalo net by Islanders forward Oliver Wahlstrom.
Houser did what he has done in so many games outside the NHL. He gave his team a chance to win. Something London Knights general manager Mark Hunter got very used to seeing when Houser was playing for the Knights from 2009-2012.
“He just oozed that love of the game and the will of the game,” remembers Hunter. “That’s what kept him going here to battle himself out of the minors to get into the National Hockey League. It’s a lot of making sure that you don’t quit on yourself and he didn’t.”
That was a trait that Hunter really liked about Houser’s game from the first time he watched Houser in goal.
“I heard that a good goalie was playing in an Under-17 program from Pennsylvania. I drove up on a Sunday morning and was impressed.”
Michael Houser was not an Ontario Hockey League draft pick. He was not selected in any of the National Hockey League Drafts that he was eligible for. Over nine professional seasons Houser played 210 games in the ECHL and 78 others in the American Hockey League and now, at 28 years of age, he was going to make his first start in the NHL. Like Houser’s parents, Hunter was able to watch with pride on Monday.
“I’m so proud of where he came from and how he fought his way to the National Hockey League,” admits Hunter.
The story of Houser’s foot surgeries early in life is now well known. He was born with bilateral clubbed feet but never let that stop him from playing hockey.
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Houser was the CHL goaltender of the Year in 2012. He won the OHL’s Red Tilson Trophy as the league’s Most Outstanding Player that same season.
His resume racked up eight stops in his nine year pro career before that road led to a new contract. A two-way deal between Buffalo in the NHL and Rochester in the AHL.
Even with two places to play, Houser didn’t see action in a single game in 2020-21 before facing the Islanders. His last game was March 7, 2020 when he made 24 saves for a shutout win for the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones in a game against the Toledo Walleye.
Before the game Houser told sabres.com, “I’ve always thought that I’ll just be patient, work hard and hopefully I get my chance. I’ve certainly gotten it tonight.”
Then he went out and made that chance count.