Granato sees opportunity and obligation in front of him

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Buffalo Sabres interim head coach Don Granato in action during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A new era in Buffalo Sabres hockey has officially begun. Don Granato was introduced as the 20th head coach in franchise history Thursday morning.

Fans remember he took over the team as interim head coach midway through last season. Now, it’s his team to run completely, but he has a challenge out of the gate. He takes over a team that finished last in the league this past year. He also inherits a group with a disgruntled captain and a potential rebuild on the horizon. Even with all that, Granato said he embraces the difficult task of turning things around.

“The challenge excites me,” Granato said. “The demand of the challenge is what excites me. To walk in, I fully believe we have a huge opportunity right in front of us. I think our players have started to grasp that with excitement and energy. The demand of Sabre fans and the demand of our hockey community is right where I want to be.”

Granato said he wanted this job for the opportunity to turn things around, but he sees it as more than an opportunity, but an obligation to the fans to right the ship.

“I feel like I have an obligation to all the people that follow the Sabres and care about the Sabres to the players that walk in our room and have to battle for us, to the staff that commits so much and everything involved,” Granato said. “I really do feel that this is an obligation that I have in this position and I look forward to that.”

There’s a lot of pressure that comes with this job. Fans in Buffalo are tired of missing the playoffs. They’re tired of getting lottery draft picks and hearing about another rebuild. So when Donny takes over, he knows there’s going to be some members of the Buffalo community expecting a turnaround within his first few years, and he’s ok with it, and he believes some of the guys on the team are ok with it too.

“The challenge of it is there’s an intensity to that, but I love that intensity,” Granato said. “We are not down somewhere where it’s not a hockey community and nobody knows who we are. I like the pressure of that.”

Don Granato’s tasked with turning around what was statistically the worst team in the NHL this past season. Not an easy assignment for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 10 years. They need some help to end that playoff drought. Donny said the pieces they’re missing could be right there in the Sabres system.

“There’s a lot of pieces I believe strongly in that are entering the organization,” Granato said. “…Anders Bjork is an example just entered the organization. We have Jack Quinn who is at some point going to be entering the organization. UPL is really entering the organization. JJ Peterka just signed. You factor in what we have and maybe if you look at areas that want to be targeted to improve and then you factor in Matias Samuelsson maturing and coming into the league. There’s so many exciting things that will fill and become more capable of filling areas that you would see and other real rent winning rosters. We do have a lot of really good pieces coming and it ties right into why I wanted this position so badly.”

Sabres fans saw a much better brand of hockey when Granato took over. Even though the record didn’t reflect it as much, it was clear they were more successful offensively. So how can they see an even greater improvement this year?

Granato believes practice to be the key. They only got 12 practices with him as head coach and those came in between the 28 games they had to play. Granato’s belief is with more practices, they’ll have more opportunity to see an improvement in the win column.

“I’ve spoken a lot about offenses and I say that because that’s a necessity. We need to get better. You’re not going to get better playing conservative in the league is forces you some time to be conservative and we felt there’s so much opportunity on the table for this team in this group to improve that we turn our focus to that,” Granato said.

What will we see from a Don Granato-led team this season? Perhaps a more exciting brand of hockey.

“You will see continual progress with our team,” Granato said. “I’m convinced of that. I know that so I don’t get mixed up in the day today. I’m in the moment and attack the moment with everything we have, but you have to move on to the next moment and we will do that in a Progressive way and get better every day. I know that for certain.”

Last year the Sabres went 9-16-3 in the 28 games under Granato.

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