When it comes time for the University of Wisconsin’s Tony Granato to lead the 2018 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team in PyeongChang, 20 years will have passed since he last wore red, white and blue as a player at the Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998. Granato was recently named head coach of the Olympic team and is tasked with leading a group of young hockey players into the most competitive international hockey competition in the world.
“There is no greater thrill in the game of hockey than to be able to cheer for, represent and wear the sweater,” Granato said at his introductory press conference in Plymouth, Michigan, earlier this month. The head coach will be joined by an all-star lineup of assistant coaches: Keith Allain, Chris Chelios, Ron Rolston and Scott Young.
Each member of the coaching staff kick-started their career playing college hockey, providing the staff with a unique perspective.
For Granato, his journey has come full circle. A standout on Wisconsin’s men’s hockey team in the late ‘80s, he went on to play professionally in the NHL, with stops at the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. In 2016, Granato returned to Madison, Wisconsin, after a successful NHL coaching career to lead the Badgers as head coach.
Massachusetts native Allain started his collegiate career in the crease for Yale and – like Granato – has returned to his roots. He took over the coaching reigns for the Bulldogs prior to the 2006 season. Rolston laced up for Michigan Tech and has since held coaching positions at Lake Superior State, Clarkson, Harvard and Boston College. Meanwhile, Young both played and coached at Boston University.
Chelios, a four-time Olympian (1984, 1998, 2002, 2006) and silver medalist in 2002, spent his college years as a Wisconsin Badger in the early ‘80s. After an illustrious 26-year professional career with the Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and Atlanta Thrashers, Chelios was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011 and Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013.
The experience of the coaching staff at the collegiate level is especially important for USA Hockey in the lead-up to the Olympics. The 2018 roster is expected to be comprised of collegiate athletes, American Hockey League players and U.S. athletes who are currently playing overseas in Europe.
“I think the injection of three different energies – the guys that are playing in Europe at various stages of their careers, the NCAA guys and the American Hockey League players – I think there’s a unique blend there,” said Jim Johannson, a 1986 Badger who will serve as the men’s team’s general manager in PyeongChang. “I think they are going to feed off each other.”
With the coaching staff and potential roster rooted in collegiate hockey, the importance of understanding the college hockey scene has been imperative to building a team that’s set for success in PyeongChang.
“The core, base and strength of this [team] is college hockey,” said Johannson. “NCAA hockey has done so much for the development of players. The bottom line is there are just more numbers for us that come from college programs than any place else.”