Of course Dominic Granato was solving a crossword puzzle when he received the phone call from Kenai River Brown Bears coach Oliver David.
Granato won the North American Hockey League's 2011 Academic Achievement Award. He learned of the accomplishment earlier this week from his bedroom, straining over "ups," "downs" and puzzling clues.
"I was really surprised, actually," Granato said by phone Thursday from his home in Pittsburgh.
He is the first Brown Bear to receive an all-league accolade in the club's four years of existence.
The academic award is given to one player across the 26-team NAHL who exhibits exemplary accomplishments in the classroom.
Granato, 19, fits the profile: He scored 33 on the ACT, 2,350 on the SAT and carries a 4.42 grade-point average.
He was enrolled in online college courses during the 2010-11 season, studying art history, but his ambition is to become an engineer or architect following college.
The Pittsburgh native hopes to play hockey at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., or Tufts University in Boston. Both are academically prestigious Division III schools.
"I want to play hockey in college," Granato said. "But I don't want to make it everything."
What made the award special to Granato was the fact it reminded him of his father, former National Hockey League player Tony Granato.
In 1997, the elder Granato won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL player who best shows perseverance, dedication and sportsmanship on the ice.
Tony Granato was a member of the San Jose Sharks that year, becoming the franchise's first player to win the trophy.
Dominic Granato sees a parallel because he is the first Kenai River player to be recognized by the league.
"It means a lot," he said. "It reminded me of my dad a little bit, which is kind of cool."
David said the forward played an intricate role in Kenai River's most successful campaign in franchise history.
It wasn't so much his numbers, David said, but his presence in the locker room and understanding of the game. Dominic Granato tallied five goals and three assists in 45 games.
"He is a very priceless piece to any team's puzzle," David said by phone Thursday from California, where he is living for the summer. "What he brings to the identity of a team is second to none. It's a passion for hockey and a very unselfish approach in his day-to-day routine. It's impossible not to recognize, and if guys don't emulate his style, they should."
Although David has yet to finalize the roster for 2011-12, he said there's a strong chance Dominic Granato will return to the Bears.
The coach will scout, recruit and visit camps over the next few months as he assembles the roster.
Dominic Granato didn't hesitate when asked if he would return to the Bears next season if given the opportunity.
"For me that's my first choice for sure," he said. "If coach takes me, I want to be back."
Notes: No Kenai River players have committed to play in college next year since the season ended, David said, though he believes defensemen Joe Blake, Alec Thieda and Erick Ware will land in Division III programs. ... David said Brett Lubanski and Ryan Walker could receive offers, too, though it's likely they wouldn't come until around September. Walker underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a torn shoulder labrum and David hopes to have him back next season. David will be in Topeka, Kan., next week for league meetings and division alignments for 2011-12 season will be among the topics.
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