You can forgive most Penguins fans for not being too familiar with the Colorado Avalanche, especially when you consider that when Colorado plays in Pittsburgh Thursday night at Mellon Arena at 7:30 p.m., it will be its first visit to the Igloo since 2005.
But one man is very familiar with Colorado, and that would be Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato. Granato spent the previous six seasons behind the bench for the Avalanche and served two stints as head coach from 2002-04 and 2008-09.
It’s always exciting when you play your old team. ... I look forward to seeing them (Thursday) night and seeing some of my old buddies. - Tony Granato
“It’s always exciting when you play your old team,” said Granato, who compiled a 215-104-17-16 record and led Colorado to a Northwest Division title in 2003. “They’ve gotten off to a good start. I think a lot of their young guys are playing extremely well so it’s a fun team to watch from afar. I look forward to seeing them (Thursday) night and seeing some of my old buddies.”
Colorado is off to a great start this season with a 15-8-6 record, good for second place in the Northwest Division and fourth in the Western Conference. A huge part of their drastic improvement has been the play of youthful players like Paul Stastny, Wojtek Wolski and David Jones. All of whom worked under Granato’s tutelage.
“There are a lot of guys that were very loyal to me and played very hard for me when I was a coach there,” Granato recalled. “I really admire and respect them for how they played and I’m glad to see a lot of those guys are doing well and continue to get better and better. From that standpoint, it is exciting.”
Granato joined the Avalanche organization in June 2002 as an assistant coach. He was elevated to head coach on Dec. 18, 2002 and led the club to a 32-11-4-4 mark en route to its ninth consecutive division title. The following season Granato steered the Avalanche to a 40-22-13-7 finish and an appearance in the conference semifinals.
He served as an assistant coach for the Avalanche from 2005-08. Last season, Granato was promoted to his second tenure as the club’s head coach and oversaw the development of a young Colorado team.
Though he is no longer an Avalanche, Granato maintains strong friendships with many people in the organization and isn’t shy about rooting for his old co-workers.
“You keep in touch with a few of your buddies and wish them well,” he said. “I think it’s easier when you go into a different conference. When you’re in the same conference it’s a more competitive thing, positioning standings-wise. Now you can still cheer for them a little bit because they’re on the other side.”
Though it will be nice to reconnect with his past, Granato is focused on the present with the Pittsburgh Penguins. And when the puck drops to the ice, it’s back to business.
“It’s important for that organization. They’d like to have a good game. It’s important for me, for us to have a good game as well. It’s one of those games you get excited about and look forward to playing.”