GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 07:  Assistant coach Tony Granato and head coach Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings on the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on February 7, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Red Wings defeated the Coyotes 3-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Dream team trio set to right ship of Badgers men’s hockey

In the world of college hockey, the Wisconsin Badgers are one of the blue blood programs - winning six national championships (third most in D1 history) and making 26 appearances in the NCAA tournament since the modern era began for the Badgers in 1963.

That tradition is gone as of late, thanks to two of the worst seasons in UW program history in back-to-back seasons.

Winning four games in 2014-15 overall and starting the 2015-16 season off on a bad foot led to the Kohl Center becoming more and more barren, as fans began to give up on the Mike Eaves-led program. It also hurt the pocket book, as UW’s men’s hockey program went from making over $1 million annually from hockey to turning just a $38,502 profit in 2014-15.

More than anything else, that was the biggest indictment of just how bad things were getting.

Change was needed, and it pride had to be restored back to the once-proud Badgers men’s hockey program. That change came in the form of three of the most decorated and iconic names in UW hockey history teaming up together.

On Wednesday afternoon UW Hall of Famer Tony Granato was introduced as the sixth head coach in Wisconsin Badgers hockey history. However, the real coup came in tying up two big names to join him in associate head coaches Don Granato and Mark Oskiecki — both former players at UW as well.

Some are referring to this as the holy trinity of coaching for UW, and while that may seem rather insane to think of, few sets of three coaches have come together under one roof with the level of collegiate, international and professional success that these three have in total.

Of course, getting it to happen also took something that athletic director Barry Alvarez has long been accused of not having for hockey — commitment. In this case, we’re talking the financial variety.

One would be hard pressed to find a bad word being said about the staff that was somehow put together. It’s a perfect mix of youth, NHL and collegiate coaching experience and a rare blend that UW hopes will breed quick results.

The younger Granato, Don, understands the current youth game in the United States better than anyone after leading the United States National Developmental program’s U-18 team for the past few years.

Osiecki also comes with plenty of recruiting prowess and experience around the professional game. He was largely thought of as the man pulling the strings to get the group together that won UW’s last national championship in 2006.

Following a few more years on Eaves’ bench, he left to take on his own program at Ohio State. Personality clash or issues over the seriousness of OSU’s commitment to hockey, whatever it was, Osiecki’s time was cut short in Columbus and he was off to the professional game as an assistant.

However, as a former leader of the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League, Osiecki understands the youth game and the high-end prospects of the USHL pretty well himself.

UW not only added a legend to lead its program, somehow it landed three candidates everyone had on their list to take on the head coaching job in one collective staff.

How exactly did that happen? After all, it’s not every day that three candidates for the job come together to lead their alma mater back to prominence. There had to be a catalyst.

According to Andy Baggot of UWBadgers.com, that catalyst was actually one simple question from athletic director Barry Alvarez: “Why wouldn’t you be interested in the job?”

Granato couldn’t answer, and then he proceeded to brainstorm the idea of getting his two biggest recommendations - his brother Don and Osiecki — together on one staff together with him.

Somehow the magic came together and all three are now on UW’s staff. It’s a move that shocked everyone involved, but even comes with the endorsement of people outside hockey’s inner circle.

That includes current Badgers football head coach Paul Chryst, who got to know Tony during his time in Pittsburgh.

“When you hear people say he’s a really good guy, he’s better than that,” Chryst said of Granato. “He’s got that ability to make you feel like you’re the most special person in the room. He’s got a gift that way.”

Apparently he also has a gift for being classy, because he has already reached out to both former HC Mike Eaves and current women’s coach Mark Johnson to keep lines of communication open. His talk with Johnson speaks volumes as to his thought and commitment to bringing UW back from the dead on the men’s side.

“We’d like it to be alongside what Mark’s done with the women’s program. We want to be at that level. We want people banging on our doors to come to Wisconsin. We want to be respected like the women’s program is, like the football program is, like the men’s basketball program is. We want to be right there with them.”

 

No doubt the pressure will be on Tony Granato and his associates to quickly mold this group in to a winner again, but for now, the fact that these three have come together signals a renewed commitment to getting back to championship hockey in Madison.

It couldn’t come at a better time, and it couldn’t happen with a more intriguing cast of coaches either.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10.com

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