Let’s take a short trip down the memory lane, and revisit a career of a man who is not generally associated with the San Jose Sharks. Tony Granato was born in Downers Grove of Illinois, played only 279 games for the Sharks and would not go down in history as one of the greatest players to lace up a pair of skates. However, Tony Granato made one of the most memorable comebacks when he swiftly recovered from a life threatening injury and returned to action as a member of the San Jose Sharks.
You will never see Granato’s name in any of the ‘top’ lists, unless you scroll way down the page. In his best season of 1992-93 he had 37 goals and 82 points. Not too bad, but remember – during that same season Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny scored 76 goals each, and there were 21 players with 100 points or more. The season was full with other important news and events – like Manon Rheaume becoming the first female athlete to participate in major sports league in North America, Eric Lindros finally getting traded in one of the most lopsided transactions in the history of the league, and Gary Bettman being appointed as commissioner of the NHL among other big headlines.
Tony Granato did make the headlines the very next season, but it was for all the wrong reasons. While still playing for the Los Angeles Kings, in the game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Tony Granato earned a 15 game suspension –14th longest suspension in NHL history according to ESPN. He was suspended by the league for the two handed slash on the head of Neil Wilkinson.
It looked very nasty, and it is certainly a good thing that players were already wearing helmets. Luckily it was not a career ending incident for Wilkinson, and he spent several more seasons in the strongest hockey league in the world.
Let’s fast forward to season 1995-96. Tony Granato suffered a serious brain injury in his last season with the Los Angeles Kings. He was tangled up with Jeff Brown of the Hartford Whalers before tumbling into the board. The collisions seemed harmless, and the injury did not seem serious at the time. Unfortunately, the injury was not only serious, it was also life threatening.
Granato was starting to feel progressively worse – he kept getting really strong headaches, his balance was off, and when he had trouble remembering stuff – he knew that something was fundamentally wrong. After a week of tests it was confirmed that Granato had a blood clot in his head. Unfortunately, it was not the case where rest and medication would resolve the problem – the headaches worsened, the clot was growing, and it was time for surgical intervention. On 14th of February, almost three weeks after the collision, Granato underwent a successful surgical operation and started his journey to recovery.
On 15 of August 1996 – six months and one day after the surgery – Tony Granato signed with the San Jose Sharks as an unrestricted free agent. Season 1996-97 was the first of five seasons for Tony Granato as a member of up and coming Sharks organization. During his first season in teal, he made history by winning the first hardware for the San Jose Sharks. His recovery from such a serious injury and an impressive 25 goal campaign coupled with commitment on both ends of the ice was recognised by the league when Granato was presented the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy – an award presented to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.
In his last five seasons, the grizzled veteran had scored 57 goals and added 42 assists, all while sharing his experience on and off the ice with the Sharks team which was on its way to becoming a perennial Stanley Cup contender. At the completion of season 2000-01, he ended his playing career finishing with 248 goals and 244 assists in 774 games. The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy was Tony Granato’s only award at the NHL level to date. Sharks on the other hand, have accumulated 4 more individual trophies – Nabokov added Calder Memorial Trophy after his rookie campaign of 2000-01, while in season 2005-06 Jonathan Cheechoo was an unstoppable scorer (Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy in 2005-06) alongside playmaking master Joe Thornton (Hart Memorial and Art Ross Trophies in 2005-06).
Tony Granato loved the game, and after taking a year off he returned to the NHL as an assistant coach of the Colorado Avalanche. He was then promoted to head coaching responsibilities with the Avs, then demoted back to being an assistant coach, then again promoted to a head coach position before getting fired from the Avalanche organization on the 5th of June 2009. Two months after, he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins as their assistant coach – the position which he has held ever since. All the while, Lord Stanley’s Cup seemed to be avoiding Granato, but with the team that the Penguins have at the moment – it’s probably not long before his name will finally be engraved on the Stanley Cup.
An avid hockey fan since 1990s, Ilya provides his insights and discussion points about San Jose Sharks and the National Hockey League in general on ‘The Hockey Writers’ website.