The Buffalo Sabres will have an unfamiliar face in net tonight when they take on the New York Islanders. Michael Houser will make his NHL debut after nearly a decade in the minor leagues, playing mostly in the ECHL.
The undrafted goaltender spent three seasons with the London Knights of the OHL and made his professional debut with the Cincinnati Cyclones in 2012. Since then he has been shipped around, suiting up for the San Antonio Rampage, Ontario Reign, Manchester Monarchs, Cleveland Monsters, Fort Wayne Komets, and Tucson Roadrunners. He has spent basically this whole season as a practice goaltender, not even seeing any action for the Rochester Americans. Houser’s last appearance was in March 2020 with the ECHL’s Cyclones.
Coming into the season, an NHL debut wasn’t even a possibility for Houser. The minor league veteran had signed an AHL deal meaning he couldn’t even serve as the taxi squad netminder. But after injuries started to pile up, the Sabres signed Houser to his first NHL deal on March 19 and kept him as the third goaltender while the rest of his position peers were coming in and out with various injuries. Now, after the latest Sabres netminder, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen suffered a lower-body injury on Saturday, Houser will get the chance of a lifetime.
Grinding in the ECHL isn’t glamourous, but Houser has managed to make 255 appearances there over his long minor league career. He was named Goaltender of the Year in 2019 after posting a .922 save percentage, going 29-7-5 in the process. Excellence isn’t anything new to Houser, who was once named not only goalie of the year in the OHL but won the Red Tilson Trophy as the most outstanding player. It’s been a very long road since then, but the 28-year-old will now be in an NHL net for the first time.
The Sabres have also been given an exemption from the league in order to sign Stefanos Lekkas to a professional tryout. The 25-year-old undrafted netminder is in his first professional season after four years at the University of Vermont. He could serve as backup for Houser tonight, but won’t actually get an entry-level deal.