Casey Mittelstadt started thriving under interim coach Don Granato. ©2021, Micheline Veluvolu

Many Sabres thrived with Don Granato: ‘I owe Donnie a huge thank you’

When Don Granato took over the Buffalo Sabres, Casey Mittelstadt had mustered one goal while mostly being utilized as a third- or fourth-line winger in his limited action.

Mittelstadt, 22, ended the season as the Sabres’ No. 2 center. After stints in the minors and on the taxi squad over the last year and a half, he developed into a consistent scoring threat, compiling nine goals and 17 points in the final 22 games.

The American, the eighth overall pick in 2017, credits Granato for his sudden emergence in his third NHL season.

“A lot of guys, including myself, owe Donnie quite a bit,” Mittelstadt said on a Zoom call following Saturday afternoon’s 1-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the season finale. “He challenged me when he took over and pushed me to become a better player. I think it’s that simple.

“I think a lot of the strides he’s made are partly because of him pushing me or a lot to do with pushing me. Obviously, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but I owe Donnie a huge thank you.”

A slew of players who struggled under ex-coach Ralph Krueger started thriving under Granato, whose future in Buffalo is uncertain.

Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin shook off a ghastly stretch and began showcasing his old form. Tage Thompson looked like a future second-or third-line scoring winger.

Granato inherited a wretched team 12 losses into an 18-game winless skid. After losing their first six outings under Granato, the Sabres started grasping his aggressive system and embraced an opportunity to play an up-tempo style.

They finished the season on a 9-11-2 run, beat the Penguins, Boston Bruins, New York Islanders and Washington Capitals in the final weeks. Considering the Sabres endured one of the worst stretches of an NHL team in recent memory, sniffing .500 is significant.

Mittelstadt, of course, wasn’t the only player Granato challenged.

“He challenged a lot of the younger guys,” Mittelstadt said. “I think that makes a big difference. Give guys kind of a kick in the (butt) and get them going. I think there was also more pressure within the lineup, guys being in and playing well.

“I think that makes a difference. Guys pushing each other for spots.”

Granato, 53, clearly enjoyed his run as interim coach. He often acknowledged while the losses hurt, he was having fun.

After 24 years of coaching, Granato, who joined the Sabres as an assistant in 2019, seemed to seized his first opportunity to run an NHL bench.

Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said last month Granato was in the mix for permanent job.

Granato said following Saturday’s game he plans to meet with Adams today. Having just dropped the season finale, he did not want to talk about his future.

After Thursday’s ugly 8-4 loss to the Penguins, the Sabres responded in front of goalie Michael Houser, a Pittsburgh native who took the defeat hard.

“It’s hard to just let go of what just happened,” Granato said of Saturday’s contest. “I’m still thinking about our game today. The preparation that went into it. I thought our guys did an incredible job with adjustments. We were too loose the other day. We talked about playing too pond-hockey, too much like pond hockey the other day, and we tightened things up.

“We made a lot of improvements and I was very proud of that. So all of that is on my mind, and I can’t even go anywhere else actually.”

Granato said he was “honored to have the position of being in charge to make the decisions I’ve had to make.”

“That in itself is a lot to be proud of,” he said. “You have a job like this and then you’re surrounded by good people, good players. As a coach, you have nothing if you can’t push guys. And I really felt the best thing was to be able to push guys. Guys wanted to be pushed. They wanted more. They felt they could give more, and they had more within themselves.

“And that was something very nice and very special to have as a coach. But I guess, just proud to be in the position and be with the group that we had.”

Notes: Penguins goalie Maxime Lagace made 29 saves for his first NHL shutout. He hadn’t won a game since Dec. 9, 2017. … The Sabres were shut out nine times in 56 games this season. … Houser made 22 saves in his fourth straight start. … The Sabres used the same lineup for the second straight game.

7 thoughts on “Many Sabres thrived with Don Granato: ‘I owe Donnie a huge thank you’”

  1. I wish the GM look s what Don do with a young team and injuries he had, I been reading what the player s are saying what of great job he did, with the injuries, please let him have a full season with the hockey team,

  2. I say you have to give Don Granato a fair look for the next coach of the Buffalo Sabres.
    He turned a disaster into something that became worth watching and certainly players gravitated to his systems. Guys really started to become their potential as players with Don.
    When next season comes and everyone is healthy, I think this team should contend for playoffs.

  3. Granato is to be commended on a job well done ! Give him a chance to continue working with these guys next season !
    One negative: Why didn’t Hall & Stahl
    show up and contribute to their young teammates ‘ development ?

    1. I agree. Hall and Staal were serial coasters. They were going through the motions and cashing their checks. Good riddance to them. You expect your “leaders” to show up and “lead” the younger players. Even Captain Jack deserves some scrutiny. He was not the same player be was in 2020. 2 goals doesn’t cut it. Will have to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was injured. Sam and the young guys like Mitts, TT, Asplund and Dahlin stepped up. I am hoping Jack comes back healthy and committed to “lead” this team to the playoffs next year. They ARE capable!

      1. If one digs into Jack’s season, one will find he was injured training before the season, never was healed from the injury, entered the season injured, and then was twice more injured causing him to miss the season. Placing blame on him is a reach.

        As for the other two mentioned I agree, they were collecting paychecks, at least Stahl was. Hall maybe not so much. But I blame Kruger for most of their woes, and I blame the front office for holding on to him.

        I don’t pretend to be a coaching whiz, but his lineups and changes daily were insane. Made no sense at all.

        Last, the Sabres remain screwed because 1) they have had no counting staff since last winter 2) they have a GM who has zero experience (evident with Stahl and Hall) 2) they have no front office other than the waitress. The entire organization is a joke. They need an experienced Pres. and VP of Operations, an experienced GM and a scouting department.

        Let’s not forget when the owners purged the entire front office team, they then turned around and demanded those remaining take pay cuts.

        We are looking at a minimum 3-year rebuild, again. Great teams are not built by offering huge contracts to older, once incredible players who are on the downslide. Great teams are built through great drafts. And THAT requires great people in the front office, which we do NOT have.

        We do have an excellent coach and staff. I’ll bet within a week they will be gone. There should not even be talk of a coaching search. Granato has proven 2 things: 1) he’s a great coach with a couple of decades of experience and 2) the Sabres problems start at the top with people who thought hiring a soccer coach or whatever he was who had not coached in the NHL in several years (and he lasted months and was losing). Sometimes, nice guys (Kruger) do finish last.

  4. Granato should remain as Coach. He inherited an absolute dumpster fire from Kruger and Adams, was using goalies who were inexperienced, and who hadn’t played in the NHL in years, if ever. He was using recent draft picks after Adams traded away the players he had just bought. Getting rid of Granato would follow the idiocy of the management/ownership of this team… so I won’t be surprised. And the dumpster fire will simply continue to burn.

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