NASHVILLE – Karin Housley thought her duties as a Minnesota state senator would be put on hold, and she could focus her attention on supporting her husband’s bid toward a Stanley Cup as an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators.
But Wednesday morning, from her hotel in Pittsburgh, Karin took a break from listening to Phil talk about the Predators’ power play to jump on a conference call with other Minnesota lawmakers to discuss hiring a legal team to fight Gov. Mark Dayton’s decision to defund the Legislature — in their eyes unconstitutionally.
“I’m having so much fun, but it’s hard sometimes juggling so many different, big things in different columns on no sleep … when you’re trying to watch the playoffs,” Karin, one of 67 state senators, said with a big laugh.
For five years, Karin has balanced being a hockey wife with representing her constituents of the St. Croix River Valley. She has aspirations of someday becoming the first female governor of Minnesota and even would have considered a 2018 run if not for her husband’s coaching career seemingly about to take off.
Phil, a St. Paul native and Hall of Fame defenseman, makes clear he’s focused only on helping the Predators climb from a 0-2 series deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final. But it’s expected he’ll soon be interviewing for the Buffalo Sabres’ and Florida Panthers’ head coaching vacancies.
“It’s great and flattering that your name’s being mentioned. That’s an honor,” said the former Sabres star and second-highest scoring U.S.-born NHL player in history (1,232 points). “But we’ve got to take care of business here right now. I really enjoy being in Nashville. It’s a tremendous coaching staff. We have great chemistry. I’m going to soak all this in and try to get our players ready.
“How many times in your life do you get an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup? These opportunities, they’re slim and sometimes none.”
Irons in the fire
During the end of the legislative session and subsequent special session, Karin kept one eye on passing the seven big-budget bills and one on the Predators’ playoff run. She missed the entire St. Louis series but was able to travel to parts of the Chicago and Anaheim series on weekends.
At the Capitol, Karin found a television where she could watch games while on recess. Before the Final, she even outfitted many of her senate colleagues in Predators T-shirts for a picture outside the Capitol.
“She’s got everybody all wrapped around the Preds,” Phil said.
Phil played for the Washington Capitals when they were swept in the 1998 Stanley Cup Final by the Detroit Red Wings. To get back again in this capacity, Karin says, “it seems surreal. … It’s like, ‘Are we really here?’ You keep pinching yourself. Like I’ve never had this much fun in my whole life.”
Music City citizen
With Phil in Nashville for four years, the Housleys have gotten to know everybody from captain Mike Fisher’s superstar singing wife, Carrie Underwood, to other country music icons such as Dierks Bentley and Luke Bryan. The Kings of Leon’s Caleb Followill has become one of Phil’s best friends.
“It’s very cool to see all these country singers show up,” Karin said. “When Lee Greenwood sang [the ‘God Bless the U.S.A. lyrics] ‘Proud to be an American’ earlier in the playoffs, that was probably the pinnacle of my excitement. I mean, that’s Lee Greenwood giving a concert in the middle of a hockey game.
“It’s so exciting for Phil. To see how hard he works, I’ve never seen anybody work harder in my life. He’s at the rink at 7 a.m. and comes home at 11. But to see him being rewarded, not just him but the staff, and to see how these players have grown is real gratifying.”
Defenseman P.K. Subban says it’s a privilege being coached by a Hall of Famer.
“He’s one of the best ever to play, so right away he commands respect and you come back to the bench and want to hear what he has to say,” Subban said.
The Housleys are both 53 and from South St. Paul. They dated in seventh grade, broke up and reunited for the senior prom in high school. They were married in 1985 and have three girls and a boy, ages 30 to 19.
“Phil and I were never political, ever, ever, ever,” Karin said. “Our parents just told us we were Democrats because everybody in South St. Paul are Democrats. So we went through life just thinking we were Democrats, and would vote that way until our late 30s, when I basically started to Google, ‘What are you?’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Phil, we’re Republicans.’ ”
Karin owns a real estate agency. In 2008, she started questioning where all her tax dollars were going. She got mad, and her kids asked what she was going to do about it.
The next day, she ran into Stanley Hubbard, the CEO of Hubbard Broadcasting, and he convinced her to run for State Senate.
“And I just dove in,” said Karin, who’s on four committees, two in which she chairs or vice-chairs. “There wasn’t one issue. I just wanted some common sense in there.”
Phil couldn’t be prouder.
“She cares so much for the people of Minnesota.”
Up in the air
Watching her husband coach compared to watching him play is the “same stress,” Karin says, “only I just don’t have to worry about him getting hurt” other than those times a puck flies into the bench.
The Housleys don’t talk often about the Buffalo or Florida opportunities. Phil, who coached the U.S. to gold at the 2013 world junior championships, is trying to ignore the outside noise because, as Karin says, “He wants to win that Cup so bad.”
If Phil lands one of the head jobs, the Housleys will be separated by a longer distance because Karin plans to continue as a senator. In fact, she has in the past been approached to run for the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate, but she has no interest in Washington.
“I love Minnesota so much, and I’d rather stay at home and do good things for my people because we have a great state,” she says. “Every time I walk up those Capitol steps and you look around, it’s like, ‘Holy cow, am I really here?’
“So I do think about governor. I think a first female governor would be really cool, but with Phil’s situation up in the air, that might have to come later. Hopefully we have a female governor before then.”