Introducing new Blackhawks assistant coach Don Granato

A product of one of hockey’s famous families

Continuing our introduction to the two new members of the Chicago Blackhawks coaching staff, it’s time to take a longer look at Don Granato.

He is a local product, born in Downers Grove, a western suburb of Chicago. Granato was born into a well-known hockey family. His brother, Tony, played 772 NHL games over 12 seasons before a lengthy coaching career that includes three seasons as the Colorado Avalanche’s head coach. Tony is currently the head coach at Wisconsin, where Don was an associate head coach last season. Their sister, Cammi, is one of the most decorated players in women’s hockey, leading the U.S. to Olympic gold in 1998 as part of her Hall of Fame career.

Don’s playing career was significantly shorter.

He played four years at Wisconsin then two years with the ECHL’s Columbus Chill in the early 1990s before hanging up the skates after the 1992-93 season. One year later, he was a mid-season hire as the head coach of the USHL’s Wisconsin Capitols. For the next decade, Granato worked his way up to the NHL, debuting as an assistant coach with the 2005-06 St. Louis Blues under former Hawks assistant Mike Kitchen, who was the Blues’ head coach that year. He later spent two years as the head coach of the Chicago Wolves before joining USA Hockey and serving as the head coach for the U-17 national team development program. Last season was spent at as an associate head coach as his alma mater before leaving Wisconsin to coach with the Hawks last week.

Without an extensive playing career, perhaps the strongest parts of Granato’s coaching resume are some of the products of USA Hockey under his watch, including Auston Matthews and Matthew Tkachuk. Granato will also be familiar with several players in the Blackhawks organization, having coached John Hayden, Tyler Motte and Anthony Louis while working for USA Hockey.

A lesser-known quantity

I found it much more difficult to dig up information on Granato than fellow recent hire Ulf Samuelsson, given Samuelsson’s stature in NHL history. This article from the Wisconsin Hockey website describes Granato as an “innovative technician,” with older brother Tony heaping praise on his younger brother after the announcement of his new job.

Over at The Athletic, Scott Powers spoke with Mark Osiecki, who was the third member of the coaching staff at Wisconsin with the Granatos and was an assistant coach with the Rockford IceHogs before that.

Osiecki applauded the way Granato communicated with his players, while an unnamed league source specifically highlighted Granato’s handling of younger players. While the Hawks have a veteran core in place, the team has consistently needed younger players to fill bigger roles due to the crushing weight of the salary cap. And a coach who knows how to get the most out of that young talent should be a welcome addition to the staff.

In Granato and Samuelsson, the Hawks have added a wealth of coaching experience — at all levels of the game — to their staff. Samuelsson clearly has more credentials as a player, but Granato’s name alone carries significant weight in the hockey community.

It’s tough to quantify the contributions of assistant coaches in any professional sport. But it’s hard to look at the lengthy resumes of both Granato and Samuelsson and conclude that either hire was a bad move by the Blackhawks front office.

The only question left now is this: which one will give better TV interviews before the start of the third period?