After two consecutive disappointing seasons, Wisconsin men’s hockey seems to be taking a step in the right direction with the expected announcement of Tony Granato as the next head coach Wednesday.
Poor records the past two seasons and Athletic Director Barry Alvarez’s comments during an Athletic Board meeting in February suggested that hockey may be taking a backseat to football and basketball. But hiring Granato should ease fans’ fears. He brings veteran experience in both coaching and playing, and will likely command a large salary, showcasing Alvarez’s commitment to hockey.
Granato’s time as a player for the Badgers and in the NHL and his experience coaching shows his hockey acumen. Despite the likely high price tag, the Badgers should be in good hands with him at the helm.
Righting the ship
In his first two seasons as an NHL head coach, Granato had serious talent at his disposal. During his tenure as head coach of the Colorado Avalanche from 2002-04, he managed some of hockey’s greatest players including Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, Patrick Roy, Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya.
With Granato as head coach, the Avalanche placed as the fifth-highest scoring team during his first year, and the sixth-highest during his second. The 2002-03 Avalanche boasted league leaders in goals (Hejduk) and assists (Forsberg), and each were among the top-five point scorers in the league.
Despite Colorado finishing in third place in the Western Conference that season, not all of the success came from having quality players. The team started off 10-8-9-4 before Granato replaced the team’s previous head coach. Under his leadership, the Avalanche then went 32-11-4-4 for the remainder of the year, but lost in the first round of the playoffs in seven games.
The next season, Granato led the Avalanche to a 40-22-13-7 record and fourth place in the West. His team reached the second round of the playoffs before losing to San Jose, after which he was let go as head coach.
Aside from his early exit, Granato helped a talented Colorado team get sorted out. With the Badgers posting less than stellar seasons in back-to-back years, that’s exactly what they need.
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A knack for the game
One of the best parts of hiring Granato is his familiarity with Wisconsin and the NHL.
As a four-year letter winner on the Badgers from 1983-84 to 1986-87, he became the fourth-highest point scorer (220) and holds the tenth-highest single-season points mark (73) in Wisconsin history. But his success on the ice didn’t stop at the collegiate level.
Granato broke the New York Rangers’ record for goals scored as a rookie (36), a record which still stands, before being traded to the LA Kings. He tallied 30 or more goals in a season three more times during his 14-year NHL career.
His own scoring prowess, coupled with his experience as the head coach of high-scoring teams, is good news for the Badgers, who scored a Big Ten-worst of 93 goals.
While Granato has plenty of work cut out for him in instilling a scoring touch and fluid, disciplined play in the Badgers, he may just be the man for the job.