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Tony Granato

Whenever Tony Granato's name pops in the news, as it did Friday when he was named coach for the 2018 U.S. Olympic team, my thoughts go to the 1997 NHL All-Star Game. For most fans, including myself, the defining sequence came with just about two minutes left in the game. Skating in front of the hometown crowd in San Jose, Owen Nolan capped a hat trick by calling his shot against Dominik Hasek with a demonstrative point of the finger to the goalie's glove side. Pure magic.

But something before the game has always stuck in my mind just as much.

Granato, playing his first season with San Jose, was the final player to be introduced. The ovation underscored the Shark Tank's reputation as being one of the loudest rinks in the league. Considering what Granato had gone through to get to that moment, he earned every last decibel.

A year earlier, while playing for the Los Angeles Kings, Granato had crashed headfirst into the boards during a game in Hartford. Granato played the next game, but his condition began to deteriorate. He underwent an life-threatening operation to remove a blood clot in his brain. He missed the rest of the season. The Kings let him become an unrestricted free agent.

After the Mayo Clinic cleared Granato to resume his hockey career, the Sharks took a chance on him. The team's first road game of the season was at Los Angeles. Granato posted a hat trick against his old team.

At the time, the NHL commissioner was allowed to make extra selections of players to participate in the All-Star Game. With San Jose hosting that season, Gary Bettman made the obvious call with Granato. In the week before the game, Colorado star Joe Sakic was scratched from the Western Conference's starting lineup because of an injury.

Granato took his place.

It was the only All-Star Game of his career, even though he had registered four seasons with 30 or more goals, but he got to do it as a starter ... in his home arena ... a year after brain surgery. Maybe my perception is skewed, but it seems that this story has become overlooked and underrated as the years have passed.

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