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A Tale of Determination

January 21, 2013 | View Comments

A Tale of Determination

by Chuck Saffell - Contributor

When Cincinnati Cyclones goaltender Michael Houser was born in Youngstown, Ohio 20 years ago there were questions of whether he would ever be able to walk. The thought that he could someday be a professional athlete was probably the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. However, he has spent most of his life proving doubters wrong.

“I was born with bi-lateral club feet,” said Houser. “The first surgery was when I was three days old and the fourteenth or fifteenth was when I was three years old.”

In total he had 16 operations on each foot; the final occurring when he was twelve. He had some trouble walking as a child, but other than running and skating a bit awkwardly there are no lingering effects.

Even with the problems walking, his mother sent Houser and his older brother Nick to skating lessons when they were young. When Nick decided he wanted to play hockey the younger Houser sibling didn’t want to be left out.

“I wasn’t the greatest skater obviously, because of my feet so they threw me back in goal,” he said.

He began to excel at the position. The Houser family had four family members playing the game and the long commutes to Pittsburgh for youth hockey were getting to be too much so they packed up and moved to the Pittsburgh suburb of Wexford when he was 12 years old.

At the age of 15 he was eligible for the Ontario Hockey League draft and the possibility of playing in one of the top junior hockey leagues in Canada. He had some doubting his ability to physically compete due to the issues he had with his feet when he was younger and he went undrafted.

“I didn’t really have any expectations for the OHL draft. I was planning on going to college and taking the NCAA route, ”said Houser of being overlooked.

Instead of heading to Canada, he spent one season playing in Des Moines, Iowa for the Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League. He performed well enough to gain the attention of some OHL teams that chose not to draft him the previous season. One of those teams was the London Knights.

“Mark Hunter, the general manager of London, came down and saw me. I went up and saw London. It was a great place, great city. I loved the people there and I ended up taking a shot and going to the OHL,” Houser said.

He had three very successful seasons playing for the Knights. His junior career was capped off by a final season in which he posted a record of 46-15-1 and led the Knights to the 2011-12 OHL championship. Individually he was awarded the Red Tilson Trophy as the league’s most outstanding player and was the first American born player named the Canadian Hockey League’s most outstanding goalie. Despite the overwhelming success he had in London, he was not selected by any teams in the NHL draft after any of his three seasons and was able to become a free agent.

Much like after he was snubbed by the OHL draft, Houser saw free agency as an opportunity instead of a disappointment. With several NHL teams inviting him to try out he knew he would be able to select a franchise that was the best for his development. The Florida Panthers were one of the organizations that made a call to his agent.

“Me, my agent, and my parents sat down and looked at the options and thought Florida would be a good fit,” he said. “So I went down there and ended up playing pretty well at the camp and they offered me a contract”

Houser signed with the Panthers and was assigned to training camp with the organization’s American Hockey League affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage. Within days of reporting he tore his medial cruciate ligament and was forced to spend the next several weeks rehabbing his knee.

Once he completed the rehabilitation process he was sent to Cincinnati. He made his first start on December 19th and showed why no one should ever count him out. He earned his first win as a professional over the Fort Wayne Komets while allowing only one goal that evening and stopping 29 of the shots he faced. He is currently 6-3 on the season and leads the Cyclones in save percentage.

The determination and drive it has taken Houser to get overcome the obstacles he has faced has been noticed early on by Cincinnati head coach Jarrod Skalde. He believes those things will help him on his journey through the professional ranks.

“I think the way he competes, that is what makes him so successful,” said Skalde. “The book on him is that he doesn’t give up. He just competes. From that standpoint he will be successful wherever he goes.”

While many professional players never make it to the NHL, if there is anyone who has what it takes to defy the odds, it is Michael Houser.