April 21, 2016

Doug Houda

Defenseman Doug Houda was a quietly efficient player in the early 1990s, first with the Detroit Red Wings and then with the Hartford Whalers. He later wound down his career by bouncing around a few NHL teams, including two stints with the Buffalo Sabres, and the minor leagues.

His job description likely could be summed up by the term depth defenseman. He usually occupied the 5th, 6th or 7th rearguard slot. Houda was not spectacular at any aspect of the game. He was not quick, but had enough skating agility and balance to defend his zone. He didn’t have many obvious puck skills, as he kept his game simple and dependable. Though he found a niche in the NHL as a physical defenseman, he was neither overtly physical nor intimidating. He always showed up though, was strong and won his share of battles in the corners and in front of the net.

Born in Blairmore, Alberta on June 3, 1966, Houda became a promising young defenseman by remaining in Alberta. He moved to Calgary where he anchored the WHL Wranglers and was drafted by the Red Wings 28th overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. He remained in junior for two more years, splitting time with the Wranglers and the nearby Medicine Hat Tigers.

Houda turned professional in 1986, but found the NHL game to be too much initially. He apprenticed with the Red Wings AHL farm team in Adirondack before making a weak Red Wings team on a full time basis in the 1988-89 season. In 57 games, he chipped in a career high 13 points.

The Wings remained a weak team throughout Houda’s three year stay in the Motor City. Soon the organization began making many changes with the hopes of becoming one of the dominant teams in the 1990s and beyond. One of the moves was to trade a struggling Houda to Hartford for skilled defenseman Doug Crossman.

The move to Hartford was good for Houda’s career, as he was able to find a full time spot on the non-descript Whalers back line. He played a physical style, chalking up penalty minutes but few points. Traditional rivals of the Whalers certainly were aware of Houda’s presence, including the Buffalo Sabres. In fact Houda set a personal record with 21 penalty minutes in one nasty game against the Sabres in January 1993.

Early in the 1993-94 season the Whalers traded Houda to Los Angeles in exchange for minor league tough guy Marc Potvin. Houda continued his physical game on the west coast, finishing the year with a career high 188 penalty minutes.

Prior to the lock-out shortened 1994-95 season, the Sabres traded a promising defenseman named Sean O’Donnell to the Kings in exchange for the cagey veteran Houda. However the shortened season was further reduced for Houda because of a hand injury.

The following season marked next chapter of Houda’s career. He struggled with the Sabres, getting into just 38 games. He actually finished the year back in the minor leagues for the first time in half of a decade. While it appeared his NHL days were numbered, he did himself a big favor by putting in a yeoman’s effort in the playoffs in helping to lead the Rochester Americans to the AHL Calder Cup championship.

NHL teams took a second look at Houda, now eyeing him as a veteran presence who could help young defensemen. The New York Islanders offered him a free agent contract for the 1996-97 season. He played in a career second-best 70 NHL games with the Isles.

Houda split the 1997-98 season with the Islanders and Anaheim Mighty Ducks. His career came full circle at the beginning of the 1998-99 season. He was traded back to the Detroit Red Wings where he started his NHL career. However, aside from 3 games, he spent the entire season helping youngsters back in Adirondack.

By this point of his career Houda was happy to play as an unofficial playing coach with a minor league team. He wanted to play that role in a city of his choosing, and his choice was back in Rochester.

He re-signed with the Buffalo Sabres organization, and settled in for 4 seasons of riding the bus in the minor leagues. He was rewarded with single game call-ups to the NHL, once in 1999-2000 (a game in which he collected 12 penalty minutes!) and one in 2002-03.

Houda finished his NHL career with 561 NHL games, 19 goals and 82 points. He accumulated 1104 penalty minutes. He added 3 assists and 21 penalty minutes in 18 Stanley Cup playoff games.

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