Although Tony Granato wasn’t a teenager when he played his first NHL season in the late 80s, it wasn’t easy. He had been drafted in the sixth round of the 1982 NHL Entry Draft but played college hockey in the following years.
He scored tons of points at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and when the time eventually came, he was ready. He made a huge impact straight away and led the team in goals scored with 36. It’s still a franchise record for goals by a rookie, but Granato wanted to make a lasting impact in other ways than just goal-scoring.
Early in his debut season, he felt like dropping the gloves, so that’s what he did.
”As a young player, and as an American player, and I was supposed to be a skilled player, back in those days it was tough to find yourself in there and to prove that you were tough,” he said on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast. ”I was so excited because ten games into my NHL career, I felt I wanted to get into a fight, just so I could get my name in the paper. It would be so cool, right? We’re playing Pittsburgh, and I find the right time, and you know Johnny Cullen?
”And I thought with my size, that I could do okay against him. We were ready to fight, we drop the gloves, the refs get in there and break it up before we could get to fighting. But at least I dropped my gloves, it looked cool.”
Well, everything went fine. Granato got his name on the fighting paper. But when he got to the bench, he bumped into some trouble with teammate and feared enforcer Chris Nilan.
”I get back to the bench, Chris Nilan slides over to me as hard as he can, and he looks me in the eyes, and says, ’Don’t ever drop your gloves again! Because if that guy don’t beat the crap out of you, by the time you get to the bench, I’m gonna beat the crap out of you! That’s my job, you don’t drop the gloves. Tell me who you want to beat up, and I’ll do it for you.’”
”Now that I think about it, that makes sense. If I get beat up, it looks bad on Chris. We’re a team, and I’ll never forget that lesson Chris taught me.”
Chris Nilan was known as ”Knuckles,” and he holds the NHL record for most penalty minutes by an American-born player. Tony Granato will always remember him for how great of a teammate he was.
”Chris was with me in my rookie year in New York. And let me tell you. Chris Nilan was as good of a protector and a teammate that you could ever had.”