Joel Quenneville was hired yesterday to coach the Colorado Avalanche, replacing Tony Granato, who will become his assistant.

Quenneville was the coach of the St. Louis Blues from January 1997 until February, when he was fired during a 4-12 slump.

Quenneville said he had been in contact about openings with several teams this summer -- just not the one that hired him.

"This came about so quickly yesterday -- I'm cutting the grass in the backyard and here I am sitting in front of everybody when Colorado wasn't even an idea," Quenneville said. "It came about so quickly and I'm totally thrilled about the opportunity. I love the challenge."

Granato was an Avalanche assistant when he was promoted to head coach in December 2002, replacing Bob Hartley, who was fired. The move was a surprise because Granato had just three months of coaching experience, all as an assistant, and was two years removed from his playing days.

Granato, who would have liked to have continued as the head coach, said he had no problem handing over the reins to someone such as Quenneville and that he brought the idea to General Manager Pierre Lacroix.

* SOCCER: The United States advanced to an all-time high No. 7 in FIFA's rankings, while Greece jumped 21 spots to No. 14 after its dazzling run to the European Championship title.

Brazil remained No. 1 for the 25th straight month, and France and Spain stayed at second and third, respectively.

The United States twice had climbed as high as eighth -- in September 2002 and again in May. The Americans beat Grenada in a home-and-home series in June to reach the semifinals of World Cup qualifying in their region of North and Central America and the Caribbean.

* FIGURE SKATING: Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, the Canadian pair awarded duplicate gold medals in the 2002 Winter Olympics judging scandal, missed two shows at the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho last weekend because they lacked proper work visas to enter the United States.

U.S. customs agents at Vancouver International Airport denied the two entry last Friday because they lacked the proper documentation, the Idaho Mountain Express of Ketchum first reported yesterday. They were allowed to enter the country as visitors.

* PRO BASKETBALL: Steve Blake scored a game-high 20 points, including the game-winning jumper with 1.8 seconds left, to propel the Washington Wizards past the Magic, 79-78, in a summer league game in Orlando.

Jarvis Hayes scored 15 points for the Wizards (2-0), all in the third quarter.

Dwight Howard tallied team highs of 15 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocked shots for Orlando. [Box score on Page D6.]

-- From News Services

and Staff Reports

Joel Quenneville says he had been in contact about openings with several teams -- but not the Avalanche. Tony Granato will become his assistant.