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Chicago Wolves fire Coach Don Granato, Asst Coach Jason Christie; Chelios not under consideration

Patrick Boylan

I write the Wolves blog for ChicagoNow

Chicago Wolves fire Granato and Christie after worst start in franchise history

Rosemont, Ill.--- The Chicago Wolves fired Head Coach Don Granato and Assistant Coach Jason Christie this afternoon. Wolves General Manager Wendell Young said, "after missing the playoffs last season and starting 1-5-0-0, we can't wait any longer. The team wasn't moving in the right direction quickly enough."

Young said he would be splitting coaching duties with Senior Advisor and Director of Hockey Operations Gene Ubriaco. The team said it will have further details on coaching prior to Friday's game against Manitoba.

Granato and Christie posted a 39-42-3-2 record in 86 games behind the Wolves bench.

"It needed to be done," Billy Malek a Wolves fan said, "I think this is the perfect time, ten games could have been to late, they could have been 1-9 then it would have been in their head."

Malek said the team should be looking for a fiery players coach to replace Granato, "I think Bobby Nardela is being talked to and Steve Ludzik and they should be talking to Jeff Pyle." Malek said the team should not offer the position to Chris Chelios because "they need someone with coaching experience."

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Chicago Wolves Coach Don Granato leaving the bench on Saturday following loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs. Credit: Jane Rickard

Defenders of the coach were difficult to find. A fan who goes by the online name Axecrew told ChicagoNow, "I was surprised it didn't happen over the summer. (The Wolves) started this season the same way (as last year), that's not the team('s fault), that's the coach('s)."

"You can't fault the players, it's a whole different crew," Axecrew said, "they wouldn't be in this position if it weren't for the coaching."

Ted Gruber, another fan, mentioned former Chicago Blackhawks coach Mike Keenan, Ludzik and Pyle. Axecrew said he thought Ludzik was a fan favorite who shouldn't be faulted for a poor record in San Antonio. Axecrew also mentioned Bob Bourne and Butch Goring as possible candidates.

Young told ChicagoNow, "our patience ran out, we didn't make the playoffs and we're 1-5 (this season). The change was needed. The guys were frustrated, saw what they had and that it wasn't happening, (the frustration) was getting bigger and bigger."

"We've got a short list (of candidates) who we want to target," Young said. "Some calls were made here and there and the phone rang (off the hook after the news went out). I didn't know there were that many coaches out of work."

One candidate is out, however, "absolutely no to (Chelios), we're giving him a platform to play back in the NHL," Young said. "The coaching side is not under consideration."

A candidate who remains in the hunt is Pyle, head coach of the Gwinnett Gladiators, an ECHL affiliate of the Atlanta Thrashers and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Pyle said he had not received a call from Chicago noting, "I haven't heard anything from Chicago. If the offer came I'd have to think about it."

Granato, 42, a native of Downers Grove and Chicago resident, was named seventh head coach of the Wolves prior to the 2008-9 season. He won the Louis A R Pieri Memorial Award in 2001 while at the helm of the Worcester IceCats, the AAA affiliate of the St. Louis Blues. Granato was at the helm of the IceCats in 2005 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, a form of cancer that spreads in the lymph nodes.

The cancer was defeated with chemotherapy at Loyola University Medical Center and a second round as part of a trial called Stanford V. Granato told the Peoria Journal Star's David Eminian "Chemo is hard. I was sick to my stomach every moment, every day, couldn't look at food."

"I thought I was going to die," Granato told the Journal Star.

Granato says he was cheered when "he looked at his Peoria championship ring, and (read) the single word Granato and the team chose to have engraved on its side panel: 'Relentless,'" Eminian wrote.

"I looked at the ring and there was that word, and it's what I needed," Granato said. "When you are fighting for your own survival, you discover how much you have to live for."

Granato led the Green Bay Gamblers to back-to-back national championships in the USHL in 1995 and 1996. He led the ECHL Peoria Rivermen to the Kelly Cup in 2000. St. Louis named him to be the first head coach of the AHL Peoria Rivermen, but removed him prior to the 2005-6 season, due to his illness. He was offered a scouting job with the organization instead.

With other members of his family, he had run a hockey camp based at Seven Bridges Hockey Rink in Woodridge, Ill. Rocket Ice Arena in Bolingbrook, Ill. aimed at developing women's hockey skills. The Granato family is deep into the hockey world. His sister, Cammi Granato, is the all-time leading scorer in women's international tournament games. She captained the Gold Medal US Team at the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics. Tony Granato, his brother, was the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche until June. He is currently assistant coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rob Granato, another brother, was a captain on the University of Wisconsin hockey team.

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Chicago Wolves Coach Don Granato leaving the bench following the Saturday night loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs. Credit: Jane Rickard

Christie was hired at the same time as Granato. The 40 year-old native of Gibbons, Alberta, had been head coach and director of hockey operations for the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL. Prior to that, Christie had been head coach of the Peoria Rivermen of the ECHL. He had resided in the Northwest suburbs.

Young had been the assistant coach under John Anderson for five seasons and for one season under Granato. He is the only man to have won all four major North American championships: the Stanley Cup, the Memorial Cup, the Calder Cup and the Turner Cup. A native of Halifax, NS, the 45 year old former goal tender played on the Pittsburgh Penguins championship teams in 1991 and 1992, the 1981 Kitchener Rangers championship team, the 1988 Hershey Bears championship team and the 1998 and 2000 Chicago Wolves championship team.

Inducted into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame in 2007, his number was retired by the Chicago Wolves. He leads the team among goal tenders in games played, wins, saves, minutes and shutouts. He compiled a 59-86-12 record in the National Hockey League over 10 seasons.

Ubriaco, a resident of the Western Suburbs, was head coach of the Wolves in two stints, as its first head coach and later as its third head coach. He compiled a record of 62-61-0-0-20 in three regular seasons and 0-3 in three post seasons behind the Wolves bench. Ubriaco coached the 1988-89 Pittsburgh Penguins and the Italian Olympic team in the 1992 winter games in Albertville, France.

The Sault Ste. Marie, ON native played three seasons in the NHL including a single season with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1969-70. Ubriaco was honored Coach of the Year by the United States Hockey League in 1973-4, the Eastern Hockey League in 1979-80, the Central Hockey League in 1982-3 and the American Hockey League in 1983-4.

A previous entry had said the Granato family runs a hockey clinic out of Seven Bridges Ice Rink in Woodridge, Ill. The most recent clinic was run out of Rocket Ice Arena in Bolingbrook. The correction and the original text is noted above. I apologize for the error.



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1 Comment

Doug said:



That was a great piece on Granato. Personally, I liked him as a person and I feel a connection with him because I am a cancer survivor as well. I know exactly how he feels and what he has gone through and that is what is making this tough for me personally. On the other hand, you saw they were struggling. I believe he was also a victim of circumstances in a way taking that team over last year. It was quite evident that the players left from last year never recovered and the new guys were not used to this level of confusion. It wasn't the talented players this year. It wasn't the goalies. It was the transparent defense and the lost look for 2 1/3 periods every game consistently. It was scoring from behind only to give up another goal right back minutes later. My best to coach Granato and Christie, I wish you luck. I hope Pyle will be considered as well as maybe even a Todd Nelson sighting, although I'm not sure if that is a "step down" from his current position. We shall wait and see and the season is back on the ventilator, with some faint signs of a heart beat.

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