Tony Granato has paid his dues as an Olympian, NHL player and professional coach.
He was a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team, enjoyed an NHL career that spanned 13 seasons with three different clubs and has spent the last six seasons as either the head or assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche. On May 22, he was appointed the fifth head coach in Avalanche history after spending the previous three as the assistant to Joel Quenneville.
After spending two seasons in that same position from 2002-04, it's a role with which he's familiar -- he actually owns the best winning percentage (.647) of any head coach in Avalanche history (72-33-17-11).
Before the 44-year-old Granato embarks on his second term as head man in Colorado, however, he took some time to speak with NHL.com on a number of issues, including the recent induction of his sister into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame and the state of his hockey club.
NHL.com: What was your reaction when you heard your sister, Cammi, was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame?
TG: When you look at the three players (Mike Richter, Brian Leetch, Brett Hull) that accompanied her into the Hall, it really puts a pretty special tag on it. I've watched her and have seen what she has done, what she's had to overcome. I've seen what she put into it and her love for the game, but when I sit back and look at the big picture, what's most impressive is how she is now viewed by the public, the respect she gets. All I can say is, 'Wow, my sister was able to do all of that.'
NHL.com: Can you describe what Cammi was like growing up in a household of four brothers?
TG: When I was a teenager, Cammi would play hockey with the boys and it never bothered her or us. Everyone would ask me, 'Hey, your sister is playing hockey?' I would always tell them nothing was wrong with that, but after a while I realized my sister was the only girl out there. It was then it hit me that she was doing something out of the ordinary and maybe it was wrong of us to create something for a girl that we shouldn't have been doing. But every time we tried to get her involved in different sports, it never worked. She'd return home, head into the basement, grab a hockey stick and get involved in the family game. When I look back and remember what she had to go through to play hockey, it's pretty incredible. I thought, 'Why would someone put themselves through that?' She had to change her name to a boys' name to play in a tournament that girls weren't allowed to play and get dressed in the women's locker room and have everyone looking at her thinking, 'What the heck is that girl doing?' But she did it all for the game of hockey.
NHL.com: Any interesting stories you could share regarding your former college roommate at the University of Wisconsin and U.S. Hockey of Fame inductee, Mike Richter?
TG: I was the smarter roommate (laughs). Really, though, Mike was a wonderful human being, a great friend and someone who was very loyal to his team and those around him. The one thing that stands out to me, in addition to his Stanley Cup win with the Rangers, was his performance in the 1996 (World Cup of Hockey). I don't know if I have ever witnessed a better goaltending performance, other than Jim Craig's in 1980 against the Russians. His (tournament MVP) performance in '96 really put an exclamation point on how good he really was. He never looked for any sort of recognition. He just put on the pads, got in net and was the best he could be, and that was usually good enough.
NHL.com: What did you learn in your first tenure as head coach in Colorado (2002-04) and can you use some of those lessons during this term?
TG: The one advantage now is that I have some time to prepare (as his first head-coaching stint began midseason, Dec. 18, 2002) and also have a little more experience after working under Joel (Quenneville) and surveying what was going on in the League and what I could take. I now understand what the head coach must go through after observing for a few years. I feel I'm wiser and certainly a lot more confident.
NHL.com: How do you feel the game changed in the six seasons you've been involved in coaching?
TG: I think we've done a nice job in attempting to make our game more entertaining. The fans love the shootout. I like the fact they are trying to allow the skilled players to showcase their ability on a consistent basis. I think that part of the game has changed for the better and it's definitely become a skating game, a game where those teams able to get the puck up the ice quickly will have an advantage. I think we've created a team (in Colorado) that's built on speed and agility and that's encouraging.
NHL.com: Who do you project to be your top six skaters entering training camp?
TG: I feel we have an organization that's different than the one I coached five years ago. Our depth at the bottom of our lineup and the competition for position and ice time at the top is a bit different than it was back then. We didn't have the depth or personnel to call up six years ago, but that's the strength we have now. Look at last year when we lost three of our top players (Joe Sakic, Paul Stastny, Ryan Smyth) for a significant time midway through the season but were able to fill those positions. We might not have been a better team, but we were a team that could hold our own and play well down the stretch. I think that's something we've tried to pride ourselves on. I'm not one to label guys a top five or six player. We have many players built to compete for ice time and roles within the system.
NHL.com: Who is the frontrunner to start in goal?
TG: I think what Andrew Raycroft was able to do in Toronto (in 2006-07) in winning 37 games was remarkable. He's a top goalie who will compete for ice time. Peter Budaj has been waiting for his opportunity to become a starter and play a significant amount of games, so I respect what they both bring. I think Budaj is prepared to come in here and be a guy who will take a majority of the games early, but it'll all be determined on how well they play. I'm real confident the tandem we have here will win us a lot of games and (Avalanche goalie coach) Jeff Hackett is extremely excited working with these guys and watching their progress.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.