May 14, 2016

Tony Granato

It is not often that a player goes on to a 774 NHL game career plus several notable USA national team appearances, including the Olympics, and then becomes a NHL head coach, and is not the most famous of his hockey playing siblings.

But such is the case for Tony Granato. But while his brothers Don and Kevin played the game, too, they all played in the shadow of their sister - Hockey Hall of Famer Cammi Granato.

While Cammi went on to become one of the greatest skaters in women's hockey history, Tony was a pretty NHL player in his own right.

A veteran of 13 NHL seasons with the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, Tony Granato was a feisty forward who battled for every inch of ice. The scrappy and short-tempered winger always played bigger than his five-foot-ten, 185 pound frame, making him a fan favorite.

Aside from his trademark determination, the key to Granato's game was his skating. Had speed and agility to spare. He also had a good nose for the net, 248 career goals including seasons of 36, 30, 39 and 37 goals.

The Granato family grew up near Chicago, and hockey was always their game.

"I was always a big Chicago Blackhawks fan when I was growing up," said Granato, who started skating when he was four. "I loved watching Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita play. From the first time I saw the game, I was hooked."

But it was the New York Rangers who drafted him 120th overall in 1982. He had relocated to New York to attend Northwood Prep and ready for what would prove to be a very successful college career at the University of Wisconsin. The Rangers had to wait.

From 1983-88, Granato become one of the great Badgers players of all time. But he also found a love of playing with the American national team. Twice he played for USA at the World Junior Championships and then he played in three consecutive World Championships - all before he played a single pro game.

The confident Granato bypassed the opportunity to join the Rangers in 1987. Instead he opted to continue skating as an amateur, committing to the United States national team for the entire season in a bid to make the 1988 Olympic team.

"Playing for your country is the ultimate honour," said Granato. "Any time you have the chance to put on that sweater, it's the greatest feeling."

Granato made the Olympic team and had a strong showing with a goal and seven assists in six games. After competing at the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Granato turned pro with the Raangers farm team in Colorado. He seamlessly scored 27 points in 22 games.

Granato made a spectacular NHL debut in 1988-89, scoring 36 goals and 63 points in 78 NHL games. He earned All Rookie Team status. Had it not been for fellow Ranger rookie Brian Leetch, Granato may have very well NHL Rookie of the Year that season.

Though he quickly established himself as a fan favorite in New York, Granato was dealt to Los Angeles during his second NHL season. The Kings offered star scorer Bernie Nicholls in exchange for Granato and Tomas Sandstrom.

The switch to the west coast turned out to be a great move for Granato, who topped 30 goals three more times and enjoyed a pivotal role in LA's first Stanley Cup appearance in 1993.

And of course he got to play with Wayne Gretzky.

"I had the pleasure of playing with Wayne Gretzky, someone who I admire for so many reasons," said Granato. "You learned so much from just watching how he prepares for the game."

Granato would spend a total of six seasons with Los Angeles, prior to signing with their California rival, the San Jose Sharks, in September of 1996. It was during his time with the Sharks that Granato suffered a serious head injury, one that required the removal of an abnormal collection of blood in the left temporal lobe of the brain.

Yet again Granato overcame his obstacles, making a triumphant return. For his efforts he was the obvious winner of the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 1997.

Granato continued to play until 2001. His offense was replaced by his leadership and veteran presence but he always remained a valuable asset and mentor to the younger players.

That made Granato an obvious choice to become a coach. He would be both an assistant and head coach with Colorado as well as an assistant in Detroit and Pittsburgh.

In 2016 Granato returned to the University of Wisconsin to become the head coach of his alma mater.

True to form, Granato made a triumphant return to the game and in 1997, was rewarded with the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. He continued to provide strong leadership and veteran savvy until he hung up his skates in 2001.

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