For most of March, the Buffalo Sabers were the punch line for the NHL. They have had an 18-game winning streak, the longest in the era of the salary cap. They fired another coach, Ralph Krueger, when Captain Jack Eichel was out with an injury. In their weekly power rankings, Buffalo News even ranked the Seattle Kraken expansion (a team with no players or coaches) ahead of the Sabers.
When Krueger was released on March 17th, assistant Don Granato was appointed interim coach. Granato, 53, is a member of one of America’s most famous hockey families. His younger sister, Cammi, is a Hockey Hall of Famer and is now a professional scout for the Kraken. His older brother Tony played 774 NHL games and now coaches the Wisconsin men’s team. Don always dreamed of being an NHL head coach, but he finally got his opportunity at the worst time – and at the expense of a friend.
“Terrible, it was terrible,” said Granato. “The emotions flow through you. You’re a bit in the fog, like what’s actually going on here? I sure didn’t feel good when Ralph was fired because you’re close as an employee and you believe in what you do Do. Then you are presented with a decision to make and you don’t have time to think about it. You just have to make it. So it wasn’t fun. “
But Granato had worked too hard to get himself into that position. And he had overcome too much. At the age of 38, Granato was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma while coaching the AHL daughter of St. Louis Blues. When he took the time to seek treatment, he thought he would never exercise again. “Absolutely, I was wondering that,” he said. “But it was more of a fear of it, I have to make it.”
Then, last season, Granato almost died as an assistant to the Sabers.
He went to the hospital in October after feeling tired. “It was a combination of pneumonia and another bacterium in my blood,” he said. “And within a few hours I couldn’t breathe. I was just fighting for breath. I was just fighting for oxygen and just trying to get a breath.”
Cammi said, “His body was shut down. He was being ventilated. They put him in an induced coma. We were all by his side. He was out of a bad state one night, we were all so scared for him and then the next morning.” ” They said everything they gave him worked. “
Through each of his health fears, Granato has surfaced with relentless determination.
“What you don’t know about is that I was hit by a car when I was 5,” Granato said. “I’ve had some pretty crazy life experiences. One loss in 18 games is nothing.”
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, the Granato children played hockey in their basement. “Donnie was the boy who came up with how to use stick handling to train on the sliding boards,” said Cammi. “He put the Wayne Gretzky videos together. He also wrote to every NHL team – I don’t really know what he said in those letters – but he got about 15 back. The letterheads had the NHL logos and we did Everyone thought it was so cool. He was a coach as a kid. “
During Cammi’s career, she turned to Don as a confidante.
“If a coach said something that annoyed me, I would go to him,” said Cammi. “And he would say, ‘Listen, if you have the coach on your shoulder while you play, you won’t be able to play.’ It always came down to what I could control, and the things I couldn’t control I had to discard. It always came down to being mentally powerful. “
Granato began coaching the USHL Green Bay Gamblers in 1994. The next season the Gamblers won the Clark Cup. He then switched to ECHL. He trained the Columbus Chill, then Peoria Rivermen. In his first season with the Rivermen (1999-2000) they won a championship. That earned Granato a job in the AHL, where he became the head coach of the Worcester IceCats, a subsidiary of the St. Louis Blues. In his first season, he was named League Coach of the Year.
“He was definitely on his way to being an NHL coach and doing the right things,” said Cammi. “But then he got sick and that kind of thing stopped things.”
The 2004/05 season was Granato’s fifth campaign coaching in the AHL. The symptoms started in the training camp. He was examined by a doctor and had some follow-up exams, but they couldn’t figure out what was going on.
“It was very scary. A very, very scary moment,” he said. “It was a little advanced where it was almost confusing. Couldn’t really figure out what was wrong with me.”
Granato began to lose weight. He felt physically exhausted.
“As a head coach, you feel the leadership responsibility and don’t allow yourself to feel sick,” he said. “As the leader of the team, you don’t want to be or see vulnerability.”
He was finally diagnosed in February 2005. Hearing the word “cancer” was not easy. He started treatment in March.
“Larry Pleau was the general manager [of St. Louis] back then; He’s a great person, a great mentor, a great friend, “said Granato.” He came to see me when I was treated. And I said, “What I realize through all of this is that I am doing what I love.” I couldn’t wait to get back to coaching. “
He finished treatment in August 2005. “When I started feeling good and feeling like I was going to the other side, it was automatic. I had to be a coach. It became very, very clear to me. I lived that way as I should. ” Life. And that is coaching. “
Granato was back behind the bench as an assistant coach with the Blues the following season. He jumped through the NHL as a scout and then returned to the AHL bank before being appointed coach of the US national team development program for five years in 2011.
If you attend the Beijing 2022 Olympics, you’ll hear a lot about what it’s like in a golden age of hockey in the United States. Virtually every good young American player in the NHL today – J.T. Compher, Andrew Copp, Adam Fox, Matt Grzelcyk, Quinn Hughes, Seth Jones, Clayton Keller, Dylan Larkin, Auston Matthews, Charlie McAvoy, Josh Norris, Jack Roslovic, Brady Skjei, Troy Terry, Brady Tkachuk, Matthew Tkachuk, Jacob Trouba, Alex Tuch, Zach Werenski, Colin White – came through Granato’s program. The list also includes Eichel, Buffalo’s captain.
“I had Jack on the US program when he was 16,” said Granato. “I met him then and then thought of the world from him. I look forward to being part of it when he is back – because we expect him back, let’s hope he will be back before the end of the year – and I’m looking forward to being head coach now.
“He means a lot to me personally. I love the fact that he has such strong and visible emotions for the game. I have reminded him several times that he has to make sure he has fun in all of this. Sometimes. Sometimes a lot of those great athletes are so intense and there are so many demands on them that they feel like they are not having fun. It becomes such a business. They are judged on different levels. I’m speaking in general now, but if you lose that or stop being aware of it, it becomes even more difficult. “
After his time with the NTDP, Granato was an assistant at Wisconsin in 2016/17, then it was two seasons as an assistant with the Blackhawks before he switched to Krueger’s staff in Buffalo at the beginning of the 2019-20 campaign.
When Granato took over the Sabers last month, they were already in a 12-game winning streak. Granato’s first message to the team: “Everyone tells us who we are. Will you listen to this?”
“My challenge to the players was that we can’t get into that,” he said. “People look up to you. Your friends look up to you. This is a chance to be really strong. This is an opportunity to really be a leader. Because a lot of people go through hard things in life, much harder than What we do So don’t shrug your shoulders and lower your head and talk about how embarrassing this is. Play it through. Have a vision of how much better we will be on the other side other side will come. “
And so Granato wasn’t as focused on just getting the next win to break the streak. He focused on making the team improve so they could get better if they got off the track. In his first week, the trainer held Zoom meetings longer than usual. He also practiced very intensely.
Granato said when he was in the NHL, and most of all, his time scouting made it “really easy to see and see who wants the puck and who wants to get rid of it”.
“Ownership is responsibility,” said Granato. “If you have the puck on your club you can score, but yes, you can make a mistake. Owning the puck in the NHL is serious because you don’t want to make a mistake. That is a mistake sometimes.” ” bigger headline than the guy who scores the goal. “
Granato knew he had to help the players recalibrate.
“We put in practices that you normally have in the preseason,” said Granato. “Very dynamic, explosive skating. Competitive. You’re tired after your workout. And they all looked excited about the next one, and got excited from the practice. They all looked better in the game for me. There’s a little more jump there makes a slightly quicker recovery, they wait at the end of the bench for the phone call who goes out next. They want the puck. “
From here on, nothing will come easy to the Sabers. They have won two of their last three games, including a shootout win against New York Rangers on Saturday. While the playoffs are still a mathematical possibility, it is not reasonable to expect that result. Although Acorn’s silver lining returns, the Sabers are likely to swap some players out by the deadline, including Taylor Hall, as they prepare for next season. Granato remains undeterred.
“What we need is to create a culture here. We need everyone who wants to hold onto the puck,” said Granato. “And over the last week we have been starting to see movements in that direction. It’s great to see as a coach.”
Three stars of the week
What we liked this week
What we didn’t like
Best games on tap
Social contribution of the week
The Toronto Maple Leafs streak without the Stanley Cup is 53 years, while a Canadian team has not won since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. By now, you’ve probably heard these facts ad nauseum. One fun fold for Toronto’s quest for fame this spring: two of their key players who could get them there are Americans.
One of them is Arizona-born Auston Matthews, who has led the goal race all season. The other one is unexpected: Michigan-born goalkeeper Jack Campbell.
The Maple Leafs have pondered the extent of the injury to starter Frederik Andersen, although it sounds like he is improving and could be back on the line-up soon. Meanwhile, the 29-year-old Campbell has been able to sparkle to a limited extent.
Since Campbell came to the Leafs via a deal with the Kings in February 2020, he has gone against average with 1.89 goals, a saving of 0.934 percent and two exclusions with 11: 2: 1. This includes a flawless 8: 0: 0 record that season when he was particularly impressive in the 5v5 battle. According to the Natural Stat Trick, he had saved 6.14 goals on the substitute by entering Sunday, along with a savings percentage of 0.954 on the 5v5.
Campbell was hailed as the NHL’s healthiest post-game interview this season by the media and fans alike. He’s constantly calling out his teammates before talking about himself and raving about how much he loves them. It is clearly reciprocated.
“Probably the nicest guy you will ever meet,” said Zach Hyman last month. Or as Tyson Barrie told TSN in March, “He’s probably one of the most positive people I’ve ever seen.”
Campbell’s path to NHL success was not linear. He was drafted in 2010 by the Dallas Stars in 11th place overall. After some difficult years as a professional and unable to progress within the Stars organization, Campbell was sold to the Kings in 2016 to see how Campbell was able to change his career, so I called Dusty Imoo, the then head of goalkeeper development for Los Angeles.
“When he got to LA I was flying the week before camp and the idea was that he should stay with me. We could get on the ice, train, shoot the s — shoot, get to know him and find out, find out what the deal was, “said Imoo. “And I learned very quickly that he was a mess in his head.
“I don’t want to relate everything to Dallas or this or that, but he hasn’t been in a good place in his life. I told him, ‘The big thing is, you don’t like yourself or love or value yourself.’ As a kid, he was so goal-oriented, and because he has that personality, he almost felt unworthy of failing to achieve anything. His success as a person was based on his accomplishments. “
Imoo knew he had to get that out of Campbell’s mindset. He said to the goalkeeper: “Let’s just be happy we’re on the ice together.” You had to restore the love of the game.
“It didn’t take him long to believe or trust me,” said Imoo. “And when he did that it was just quick. He’s had an amazing season.”
In his first season with the AHL Ontario Reign, Campbell made a savings of 0.914 percent and made the AHL All-Star Team. “Once we got over those barriers, as he was leading himself, we could work on his game,” said Imoo. “It was so fun to watch. It wasn’t denied. And if it’s a person like that – if your job is a development person, there is no better feeling than seeing someone of this caliber achieve their goal.” Dreams. It was just so great. “
Imoo currently lives in Vancouver and is hoping for another opportunity to join an NHL team after his stint with the KHL Red Star ended badly during the pandemic. (Imoo and the other trainers came to an out-of-court settlement after their dismissal). He said Campbell’s fights are not isolated at all because “in general, to some degree, every goalkeeper has a part of them that is mentally affected”.
“Some are far more than others,” said Imoo. “Cal Petersen is a great example, he has a really good threshold for outside noise and he can handle a lot. There are others who influence them a lot. Their talent could be exactly the same, but some guys might go for a big effort. ” Dips, and others can ride the wave. “
Imoo stays in close contact with Campbell. Even if the goalkeeper plays in Toronto – the largest media fishbowl in the NHL – Imoo believes Campbell is now poised for continued success.
“When Jack was traded, I was flying back from Moscow for a four-day break, and that happened while I was on the plane. I ended up in Vancouver with a million news stories and interviews, Toronto media people and everyone who wanted to know : Was he ready? “Said Imoo. “Probably not four years ago. No way. But when he was traded, I felt very comfortable where he was.
“Every time I talk to him, I’ve talked to him beforehand [a game last week]because he wasn’t really excited about his game before – it sounds like he’s in a really good place. Even if he’s looking for a reset, he’s all there. I’m not worried about him at all. Because the pressure will increase [higher]There’s a lot in the media – they talk about the Leafs goalkeepers every day! – but he’s ready. He’s ready for it. “
Three stars of the week
Martin Jones, G, San Jose Sharks
As the Sharks see a surprising surge for a playoff spot, they’re seeing a resurgence from Jones, who has taken his percentage saving for the entire season to over 900 with a fantastic week. Jones went 4-0, stopping 113 of 120 shots (0.942 percent), including a 30-point dropout in Los Angeles.
Brad Marchand, LW, Boston Bruins
He had a monster performance in Boston’s 5-7 win over the Penguins on Saturday and has five goals and two assists in three games for the week. David Pastrnak said, “He’s burning and we love to see it. He’s energetic and we just need to feed more of his energy. He’s burning and obviously he’s doing everything.”
Mathew Barzal, C, New York Islander
Barzal heats up and scores three goals and four assists in three games this week as well as a shootout winner. All but one of his points were equally strong. He’s chasing Connor McDavid for the unofficial title of the most highlight goals this season:
Just stupid pic.twitter.com/4OktVCgnVP
– YESUV🚙 (@IslesWhiteSUV) April 1, 2021
What we liked this week
1. While the aspiring Nashville Predators are campaigning for a place in the playoffs, the making of Eeli Tolvanen was a storyline to watch. I don’t think anyone will catch Kirill Kaprizov for the Calder Trophy at this point, but Tolvanen (10 points in his last eight games and a recent streak of six) is holding its own in the race.
Eeli Tolvanen can fucking shoot it 🚀 pic.twitter.com/BkW20WGbq6
– Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) April 3, 2021
2. Speaking of newbies, if you ignored Jason Robertson this season in Dallas, do yourself a favor. As of March 1st, Robertson has led all newbies with 18 points in 19 games, with 15 of his points being equal.
– NHL (@NHL) April 4, 2021
3. These rabbit pictures are the gifts that keep giving:
These two are now on the same team.
Play a game at Easter.
Against the devils. pic.twitter.com/PQYpyAZrTM
– Washington Capitals (@Capitals) April 4, 2021
What we didn’t like this week
The situation with the Vancouver Canucks is not great. It was bad last week and just got worse over the weekend. I was told that more than half of the team has now tested positive for the coronavirus. Trainers and family members are also affected. The Vancouver area has been a hotspot for the P.1 variant lately, and many players on the Canucks who tested positive are symptomatic. “Fatigue, dehydration, the symptoms are intense,” an agent from a Canucks player told me. “It blew a lot of people. Some of them can’t even get out of bed.”
The Canucks are very unlikely to get back on the ice for a game on Thursday as planned, and the NHL will set the schedule over the next few days depending on how the recovery looks. This is a team’s worst breakout this season.
The NHL is close to the finish line and some American teams, like the Golden Knights, are starting to get vaccinated. However, we are not there yet. In retrospect, it doesn’t look good that Adam Gaudette was taken out of training on Tuesday, was positively confirmed that evening and the team still played a game on Wednesday evening.
It’s too early to say how this will affect the rest of the NHL season, although we will certainly be planning games in the May “buffer period” before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin. With the Stanley Cup finals likely to end before July 15th and the Canucks situation as a cautionary story, we might hear of the possibility of a postseason bubble. This is something the players vehemently did not want and there will be a pushback if the NHL brings it to the table. But the possibility remains – something I wouldn’t have believed in a week ago.
Top games this week
Note: All times east.
Monday: Colorado Avalanche in Minnesota Wild, 8 p.m. (ESPN +)
Since March 10, the Avalanche have gone 11-0-2, averaging 4.43 goals per game while only 1.73 are allowed. This stretch includes their last game against the Wild, which was a 6-0 win over Colorado. Minnesota is feeling fine after two games against the Golden Knights. Kirill Kaprizov may have looked like he hit a rookie wall but has since been torn out. The winger has scored four goals in his last 10 games.
Thursday: Boston Bruins in Washington Capitals, 7 p.m. (ESPN +)
The Bruins can be found everywhere as they cling to fourth playoff spot in the east. Their 5-7 win over the Penguins on Saturday felt like a microcosm of their unpredictable season (some defensive rounds, lack of late leads, ultimately resilience). Boston is confident that the 5v5 breakout could mean good things in this area. If not, they should seek help with the scoring at close of trading.
Friday: Los Angeles Kings in San Jose Sharks, 10:30 p.m.
Don’t look now, but the sharks are fighting for a place in the playoffs. You have won four games in a row to catapult in front of the Kings and reach a playoff spot in the West Division within one point. Sure, San Jose has a minus 17 goal differential, but Captain Logan Couture says they are “making progress”. It helps the Sharks play 8-1-1 against the other California teams this season.
Social media post of the week
To be honest, we need more debates like this in hockey. Well, Brandon Dubinsky, for sharing an uncomfortable opinion out loud – and churning hockey twitter for a couple of hours.
Listen. Crosby is better than me. I never said it wasn’t him. He’s obviously one of the best around. It was @ ovi8 against Sid. Neither of you have played in the NHL and you know how difficult it is to score goals in the NHL. 724 is crazy. Sid was whining way too much and Ovi just shut up and played hard. pic.twitter.com/rI2aSriYvY
– Brandon Dubinsky (@ BDubi17) April 2, 2021