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Eichel, Matthews thankful Granato back coaching

Sabres assistant was hospitalized in preseason with pneumonia, respiratory failure

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

BUFFALO -- This Thanksgiving weekend, Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel are thankful that Don Granato is still alive.

"What he went through was shocking," said Matthews, the Toronto Maple Leafs center. "It will be so great to see him."

Granato, an assistant with the Buffalo Sabres, was hospitalized during the preseason after bacteria made its way into his bloodstream which led to pneumonia and respiratory failure. The 52-year-old coach said at one point his doctor told him he could die if he did not undergo a procedure in the next five minutes.

At first following the procedure, Granato was so weak he needed a walker to get out of bed. But his strength slowly returned, and last week he was able to return to the team.

And on Friday, Granato, who coached Eichel and Matthews when they were teenagers playing for USA Hockey National Team Development Program, will be behind the bench when the Sabres host the Maple Leafs at KeyBank Center (4 p.m. ET; MSG-B, TSN4, NHL.TV).

"I don't have kids of my own, so they're as close to it as I'll get," said Granato, who returned against the Florida Panthers on Nov. 24. "They're among the many things I'm thankful for after what I've been through."

For Eichel, the Sabres captain, it was a boost to the team on more than one level.

"I think it puts a lot of things in perspective how fortunate we are to do this and fortunate to be healthy," Eichel said. "That was some serious stuff that he went through. 

"Honestly, we didn't have an idea the extent how bad it was. When we were educated on the situation it was super scary. You just don't know. There's a lot of unknowns. You just hope for the best for him and his family. 

"We were just so lucky to hear things started to turn for him for the better. You just pray for him that things work out and thank God that they did. He's back with us and I imagine he's extra thankful this Thanksgiving as are we."

Matthews and Eichel, who played together with the NTDP during the 2013-14 season, were among Granato's current and former players who sent him well wishes during his battle. 

"From the experience I just went through, when I saw texts from players I coached, that was the neatest thing," Granato said. "Because you push guys when you coach. You work with them day to day to make them better. That's what you want for them. And after all of that, it was really incredible to see them coaching me, sending me messages that said, 'Thinking of you. We care about you. Push through this.'

"Those messages were so impactful. It's an incredible inspirational feeling."

Matthews said he'll always be grateful for the guidance Granato has provided.

"He's had a big influence for sure," Matthews said. "It's at a time in your life where you are learning things on and off the ice. He helped prepare me for both. 

"You never forget the people who've helped you like that."

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