Sunday, July 27, 2008

Wolves new coach Don Granato

Since Strickland has now broken the story, we'll go ahead with this post.

Let’s get the first question out of the way -- yes, Don Granato is the brother of Tony and Cammi Granato. He was raised in Downers Grove, Ill., just outside Chicago, and still makes his home in the metro area.

Granato’s personal story is quite inspirational. In February 2005, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the same cancer that Mario Lemieux battled. Granato, who was coach of the Worcester IceCats at the time, had to step down and undergo 12 weeks of chemotherapy and radiation. He beat the cancer and returned to coaching the next fall, with the parent St. Louis Blues as an assistant (link includes photo).

For the past two seasons, he’s been working as a pro scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Granato was hired there by John Ferguson, Jr (then GM). Granato was set to have continued on with the Leafs next year, if not for him going after the Wolves job.

Researching him as I’ve been doing, it’s hard not to see his passion for coaching. One in a series of columns on hockey in USA Today several years ago is titled A coach’s emotional roller coaster ride.

You get a sense of how excited he is about the game by the number of exclamation points he used in the column above. Copyeditors could not temper him. I count five.

John Buccigross met him in 2004 and had described him this way:
Don will make a good NHL head coach because of his experience and love of the game. He has a dedication to his craft and a cool demeanor that will work very well with the 21st Century athlete. Players will play and perform for him. He projects authority without being demeaning. He has those deep-set Granato eyes that project intensity, passion and warmth.

Bucci asks him eight questions at the bottom, my favorite is this one.

No. 6: Ray Ferraro is now your brother-in-law after he wed your sister Cammi. Isn't that a bit unsettling?
Granato: No comment.

As far as his accomplishments go, Granato was the captain of the Univ. of Wisconsin's NCAA championship team in 1990. He was AHL Coach of the Year in 2000-01 with Worcester, posting a .675 winning percentage. He also won the ECHL Kelly Cup with Peoria in 1999-00. He was also general manager of that team.

Style of coaching? He expects a high compete level from his teams, so you’ll see an up-tempo game. Granato talked about the importance of competitiveness in another of his columns.

Granato was a forward when he played, and is still quite young, turning 41 in August.

St. Louis Blues GM Larry Pleau on Granato back in 2005:
"He's young. He's enthusiastic. He's a good teacher. And he comes from a hockey family. You take a decision on who will handle your prospects very seriously. You spend lots of money in the development process, from scouting the kids to grooming them to be NHL players. It’s important not to make a mistake in choosing a coach to bring your prospects into the future."

Wolves players with ties to Granato? Not many. He'll largely be starting from scratch with the players. The incoming Mike Hoffman played 15 games for Granato in 2003-04 in Worcester. Colin Stuart’s brother Mike played for him for three years also in Worcester.

When given a choice, as he was by the Blues in 2005 between coaching and scouting, he's chosen coaching. But Granato’s pro scouting and management experience will surely come in handy for the Wolves. Like the Thrashers, the Wolves need to bring more hockey minds into the organization. When the day comes that Wolves GM Kevin Chevaldayoff is officially hired by an NHL club, they will need those people to fill the hole he leaves.

Interestingly, Granato coached alongside former Thrashers coach Curt Fraser in St. Louis in 2005-06 (both were assistant coaches), and now with Fraser going to Grand Rapids, they will be going head to head in the AHL. (Speaking of Fraser, anyone else find it ironic that Todd Nelson and Curt Fraser were each both previously employed by the other's new organization?)

All in all, Granato looks like an excellent choice from all angles.

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