Kevin Dineen

Don Granato thrilled to be working with 'calm' Q again

Don Granato thrilled to be working with 'calm' Q again

For Don Granato, working with coach Joel Quenneville again was a chance he couldn’t refuse. Granato was a young coach with the Worcester IceCats, the St. Louis affiliate when Quenneville was the Blues’ head coach, and Granato learned plenty.

“The presence,” Granato said of Quenneville. “He has a really good presence, a calming influence.”

Wait. Quenneville calm?

“Without a doubt, calming,” Granato said. “It was almost like, ‘Hey, we’re in it together.’ And again, that’s the calm behind the scenes. He helps players and in that case he helped me perform as well as I could at that point. I think he’s good at that, because he’s a people person. That’s what I remember most. It’s more of a feel.”

Granato, who general manager Stan Bowman called “a great communicator,” is happy to be back in the Quenneville coaching fold this season. Granato will be watching the games from upstairs and will bring another voice to a Blackhawks group that is looking to take a fresh approach after a second first-round loss. Assistant coach Kevin Dineen said having another perspective will help.

“I’m looking forward to having Donny here,” Dineen said. “I like to talk. I sit there and talk through things. When you have someone working with you on a specific area of the game you can have those debates. It’s the same thing with players but you’re teaching. With another coach a good, healthy voice like that with Donny’s experience can be great for us.”

Where Granato will help most – and where that calm he learned from Quenneville could be most critical – is with the Blackhawks’ younger players. He’s worked with several already through the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, including John Hayden and Nick Schmaltz, both of whom appreciated Granato’s tutelage.

“It’s so obvious he knows the game so well. I think coaches who know the game well and know how to teach the game well are hard to come by,” Hayden said. “It goes back to what I’ve said about meeting the coaching staff and the rest of the players. You feel comfortable in that regard. With coaching changes that process happens all over again, but I was fortunate to spend two years in the World Juniors with coach Granato, who did an incredible job with coaching and development.”

[MORE: Who goes where? Quenneville already plotting options] 

Granato will have a voice with the Blackhawks and will especially have an impact with their young players. The impact Quenneville made on him is still being felt.

“When he left St. Louis, he and my brother [Tony] coached together in Colorado. So the connection stayed. And I’ve always tried as a head coach to play the system that Joel played. So I’ve always tracked and watched the Hawks and the Avalanche and whoever Joel was playing,” Granato said. “That was fun, that’s the impact he had on me, from not only a presence, but the tactics, as well.

How will Blackhawks juggle having three assistants on coaching staff?

How will Blackhawks juggle having three assistants on coaching staff?

The Blackhawks officially tabbed Don Granato and Ulf Samuelsson to be Mike Kitchen's replacement, the team announced Thursday, giving Joel Quenneville three assistants on his coaching staff, along with Kevin Dineen.

Before we continue, there's history to note on the new staff: Quenneville, Dineen and Samuelsson were teammates with the Hartford Whalers in the 1980s while Granato and Quenneville spent time together with the St. Louis Blues in 2005-06. Granato's older brother Tony, who is the current head coach for the NCAA's Wisconsin Badgers, also served as an assistant under Quenneville in Colorado for three seasons from 2005-08.

But it's uncommon for a team to have three assistants behind one bench, so how exactly is this going to work?

Dineen will likely resume his responsibilies of leading the power play, while Samuelsson is expected to work closely with the penalty kill unit and team's defensemen, which used to be Kitchen's primary focus. Samuelsson, a Swedish native, enters an organization filled with young defensemen from his country, including Niklas Hjalmarsson, Gustav Forsling, Erik Gustafsson, Carl Dahlstrom and Viktor Svedberg, which should help ease the transition from the minors to the pros for many of them.

It's unclear what Granato's role will be exactly and whether he will actually be on the bench during games, but his track record suggests it could be to help develop the Blackhawks' young players.

Prior to being hired by Wisconsin, Granato, a native of Downers Grove, spent five years as the head coach for USA Hockey's national team development program, where he mentored rising NHL stars Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, Charlie McAvoy, Auston Matthews and Zach Werenski, to name a few.

Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz are among the notable Blackhawks who played for Team USA during his tenure, along with prospects Alex DeBrincat, John Hayden, Luke Johnson, Chad Krys, Anthony Louis and Tyler Motte. Some of them were not directly coached by him, but they all were under his watch over that span.

Granato has also made coaching stops in the AHL, ECHL, USHL and most recently at the collegiate level, further expanding his hockey background and perhaps adding another voice to the scouting department.

It's a unique situation for the Blackhawks, and it will be interesting to see how the dynamic works.

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

On April 22, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman vented his frustrations on the team’s all-too-abrupt exit from the postseason, adding that he and coach Joel Quenneville, “are going to work together to make sure that this never happens again.”

There will be plenty of decisions for the two to mull between now and September, when the Blackhawks convene for training camp. When it comes to the assistant head coach vacancy, however, that might need to be decided with a more one-sided approach. That choice ultimately should be made by Quenneville.

In a recent podcast, Pat Boyle and I discussed the Blackhawks’ need to work together on some upcoming decisions. But with the assistant coach, the head coach has to have the loudest voice. The head coach probably should even have the final vote. The relationship between coaches has to be there because they’re around each other constantly. They’ve got to be on the same page. There has to be trust from Day 1.

As for when the Blackhawks name that assistant, there appears to be nothing imminent. A source said Monday that the Blackhawks and Ulf Samuelsson have been in communication about the job — Chris Kuc of the Tribune first reported on Samuelsson on Sunday. On paper it looks like it would be a great fit. Samuelsson and Quenneville played several seasons together with the Hartford Whalers, along with current Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen. The relationship with Samuelsson has been there for a long time and it would make for a smoother transition. It might also provide somewhat of a panacea for Quenneville after former assistant Mike Kitchen, whose friendship with Quenneville also went back to their playing days, was fired last month.

Earlier this month Bowman told the Sun-Times that Quenneville will have a big role in the Blackhawks’ finding their next assistant coach, with the final choice being a “joint collaboration.” We get that there’s an order to these things and everyone has to be in agreement with the final decision. But in the end the head coach has to be 100-percent happy with his immediate staff. So whoever the next assistant coach is, the decision has to be 100 percent Quenneville’s.