USA Hockey announced today that Don Granato has been named the next head coach at the Ann Arbor-based National Team Development Program. Granato will take the reigns of the U.S. National Under-17 Team next year, replacing Ron Rolston, recently hired away by the Rochester Americans, as head coach. Danton Cole will lead the U.S. National Under-18 Team in his second year with the NTDP.
Granato comes to the NTDP with extensive professional hockey coaching experience, having led both the Worcester IceCats and Chicago Wolves at the AHL level. He also won a Kelly Cup in the ECHL in his only season with the Peoria Rivermen.
The former University of Wisconsin forward also has junior hockey coaching experience, having served as a head coach in the USHL, including three years with the Green Bay Gamblers as the organization’s first bench boss. In 15 years of coaching, he’s only spent one season as an assistant, and that was with the St. Louis Blues in 2005-06.
Coming up after the jump, more on the Granato hire and a look back at the official closing of the John Hynes-Ron Rolston Era for the NTDP.
Granato most recently served as a professional scout for the Vancouver Canucks. He was last behind the bench in the 2009-10 season before being let go by the Chicago Wolves in what seemed to be a bit of a knee-jerk reaction at the time after starting the season 1-5. Despite the last stop ending on a down note, Granato’s credentials are pretty solid.
There’s been a bit of a trend at the NTDP in its recent hirings. Each of the last three head coaches hired by USA Hockey has had AHL head coaching experience.
Kurt Kleinendorst was brought in to replace John Hynes, who left for a job with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Kleinendorst had served as the first head coach of the AHL’s Albany Devils before coming to Ann Arbor. It was then Danton Cole, a former head coach with the Grand Rapids Griffins, that replaced Kleinendorst, who left to become head coach of the Binghamton Senators. Now it’s Granato who replaces Rolston, who was named head coach of the Rochester Americans. Also, there’s another former NTDP bench boss in the AHL, Lake Erie Monsters head coach David Quinn.
The AHL loves NTDP head coaches and apparently the NTDP loves AHL head coaches.
At the end of the day, it’s all about player development. It’s not hard to believe that the NHL’s top developmental league and arguably one of the most consistent developers of junior talent keep trading off head coaches. It’s mostly coincidence, but a trend’s a trend.
As previously written on USofH, the number of American coaches earning big jobs is on the rise. It’s allowing organizations like the NTDP to have a very wide and distinguished group to select from.
The NTDP is also in a bit of transition, as the hiring of Granato is essentially the last act in closing the book on Ron Rolston’s tenure at the NTDP. The Ron Rolston-John Hynes era is officially over. It’d be hard to argue any other coaches, with the exception of Jeff Jackson who founded the NTDP, have had as big an impact not only on the program, but on American hockey development.
Jackson was the NTDP’s first leader, Mike Eaves led the U18s to their first World Championahip, but Rolston and Hynes took the reins and led the NTDP into its most successful eight-year run in not only world titles, but player development.
During the pair’s eight combined years, the NTDP has never finished outside of the medals at the World Under-18 Championship.
Hynes led the U.S. to silver in 2004, gold in 2006 and bronze in 2008. Rolston took the U.S. to gold in 2005, silver in 2007, gold in 2009 and gold in 2011. (Kurt Kleinendorst led Team USA to the gold in 2010. Hynes coached that same team the year prior to his departure, so I guess he can pick up a half credit there.)
During that span, the NTDP has seen 23 alumni selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. There have been 41 total alumni taken in the first round, meaning more than half came during the Hynes-Rolston era.
The success enjoyed by the NTDP has also forced everyone else in the player development business to get better. Competition breeds improvement.
Also, interestingly enough, when the NTDP hired both Hynes and Rolston, the pair were college assistant coaches looking for their first head coaching gig. Hynes was a grad assistant and assistant coach before moving on to be an assistant at the University of Wisconsin. USA Hockey essentially took a chance on him when they made him a head coach mid-season in 2003-04.
Rolston, a longtime college assistant, was hired for the 2004-05 season and promptly led the U.S. National Under-18 Team to its second gold medal at the Under-18 Worlds.
Now, the NTDP has the luxury of not just being a springboard for its head coaches, but a destination job. Before the string of success, I don’t think there were too many former pro head coaches lining up to work in Ann Arbor. It’s all because USA Hockey once took a chance on a pair of college assistants who revolutionized the program with new ideas and an unrivaled work ethic.
Now it’s time for a new era and perhaps it only will continue to get better. Danton Cole will enter his second year with one of the most talented groups of players the NTDP has seen. Granato will take the reins of a very deep group of 1995-born players.
Each coach that has come into the NTDP has put their own stamp on the program in some way with an idea or a new way of thinking or just a different type of work ethic. It will be very exciting to see what Granato brings to the table with his extensive coaching experience. This will certainly be different than anything he’s done before, but perhaps that is what may bring out some creativity. The uniqueness of the NTDP allows coaches to try new things and see what works.
After all of the success enjoyed by USA Hockey over the last several years, it’s just a matter of keeping the forward momentum.
Cole has already done a great job with his group of 1994-born players, featuring arguably two of the best defensive prospects at the NTDP in some time in Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones. He’ll now be the veteran coach, guiding the Under-18s next season.
It should be a very exciting year for the NTDP, but a significant chapter in its history has officially closed. It’s bittersweet, for sure, but it’s a new beginning for an organization that has truly revolutionized the way the United States develops and challenges its young players. What will this new beginning bring? Hopefully much of the same.