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Granato's dream job came with promise to hit the books again

Wisconsin coach and new college graduate is leading U.S. men's hockey team in Winter Games

Several times over the past three decades, Tony Granato longed for his college days at Wisconsin.

His wish came true when he was named the men’s hockey coach for the Badgers in March 2016. However, the appointment came with a caveat: He had to finish his college degree that he was six classes from completing when he left campus to play in the NHL.

Competition dates

  • U.S. vs. Slovenia, Feb. 14.
  • U.S. vs. Slovakia, Feb. 15.
  • U.S. vs. Russian athletes, Feb. 17.
  • Qualification playoffs and quarterfinals, Feb. 20-21.
  • Semifinals, Feb. 23.
  • Bronze medal game, Feb. 24.
  • Gold medal game, Feb. 25.

Granato fulfilled the promise and participated in graduation ceremonies last May at Wisconsin. It marked a big weekend for the Granato family because his youngest daughter, Gabby, graduated from Colorado the day before her father.

“All four of my children beat me in earning their college degrees,” Granato said. “The last time I took classes was in 1987.”

Now, he is taking a break from the dream job at his alma mater to work another dream job of coaching the U.S. men’s hockey team in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. He has been granted a leave of absence from Wisconsin.

“I am very excited and honored to be the U.S. Olympic coach,” Granato said. “I remember watching my sister (Cammi) play in the Olympic Games. The USA sweater means a lot to my family. There is no better honor you can have than representing your country.”

Being a student and a first-year college coach was a demanding experience. Granato completed his family studies degree in the 2016-17 academic year by putting together a timeline that would fit around his coaching duties at Wisconsin. He took two classes in the summer, fall and spring to satisfy all the graduation requirements.

“In the back of my mind, I had always planned to go back to get my degree,” said Granato, who had a 13-year professional career playing for the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. “But as you get older, it gets more challenging with the NHL schedule and having four kids. I was really lucky how this played out.”

After his playing days ended after 13-years in the NHL, Granato turned to coaching for another 13 years. He worked two stints as the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche, where his team won the Northwest Division title in 2002-03. His teams posted winning records in 12 of his 13 seasons as a head or assistant coach.

Granato was an assistant coach in Detroit when the Wisconsin job opened. He knew it was time to go back to school.

“The summer school classes were the hardest because it was so compacted, and I also had to recruit,” Granato said. “During the season, I left a lot up to my assistant coaches in practices because I had to go study.”