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On the pond or in the basement, hockey ruled for Granatos

Saturday, 12.22.2007 / 9:00 AM / Off the Wall

By Evan Weiner - Correspondent

Cammi Granato was part of a hockey playing family growing up in Downers Grove, Ill.
The holiday season is about family, and in hockey circles there have been numerous brother combinations like the six Sutters, the five Bouchers and the three (and counting) Staals, just to name a few. There even was one brother-sister combination, Manon Rheaume, who played two preseason games with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992 and 1993, and her brother Pascal, who played for six NHL teams.

Families are an important part of hockey, from the youngest levels of the game at local rinks to the NHL. Don and Natalie Granato’s family was no different, except they were not from a traditional hockey development area, instead hailing from the Chicago area.

Oddly enough, Don and Natalie’s first date was at a Chicago Blackhawks game.

Cammi Granato, one of the winners of the 2007 Lester Patrick Award for service to hockey in the United states, was part of a hockey playing family growing up in Downers Grove, Ill. Two of her brothers, in fact, would go on to pro careers – Tony played for the Rangers, Kings and Sharks, while Don played and coached in the minor leagues. A third brother, Rob, runs a hockey school in the Chicago area.

Cammi Granato learned to play hockey because her older brothers needed a fourth player and Cammi thought there was nothing wrong in playing hockey with the boys. After all, she was going to be a member of the Chicago Blackhawks when she grew up and her mother never discouraged her from thinking that she one day would put on a Blackhawks jersey and play at Chicago Stadium for the home team.

"I have fond memories of my youth hockey," Cammi Granato said. "I never knew I was any different than any of the boys. The only time I was, was when people started pointing it out to me. And more of the parents made a hoot out of it than the kids."

Cammi probably had it easier at the rink playing with the Downers Grove Huskies than at home playing hockey with her three brothers.

There was a Granato code among the kids: You didn't let anyone know if you got hurt in the backyard or the basement.

"That was our rule, you don't tell mom and dad or you don't play," she recalled. "I was the youngest; my older brothers and I would play down there and you don't tell mom, especially when you are the youngest. For the first seven years across the street from our house we had a frozen pond. Actually, it wasn't a pond, it was an entire field they would freeze over in the winter and it was our winter playground. So we would be out there all the time and even I remember the headlights on at night. We would get out there after it got dark and get maybe an extra game in.

"We would wear our skate guards into dinner some nights and go back out. And when we moved, we were devastated that we had lost our winter playground, so our parents let us convert our basement into a little hockey rink – no ice, but a little stick hockey, and there were some intense hockey games down there, for sure."

Cammi Granato became a really good hockey player, possibly the best women's player America ever produced, but her dream of putting on a Blackhawks uniform was not to be. By 1990, she was trying out to be part of the first U.S. Women's Hockey Team. But dreams do die hard, and Cammi played hockey with the boys until her junior year of high school. She earned a hockey scholarship to Providence College and an entrance onto the international stage.

She scored 139 goals during her college career.

"I finally realized in high school that I wasn’t going to play in the NHL and that was devastating to me,” she said. “But here I am playing in a 10,000-seat arena (in Ottawa) with all these other women. Every other woman shared the same dreams, the same passions and here we are playing in the World Championships."

In 1998, Granato was the captain of the U.S. women’s Olympic team that won the gold medal in Nagano, Japan. The Americans beat Canada in a tight hockey game, 3-1, a game that went down to the final minute.

In 1998, Cammi Granato was the captain of the U.S. women’s Olympic team that won the gold medal in Nagano, Japan.

"When Sandra White scored the empty-goal net to make it 3-1, pandemonium erupted on the bench," Granato remembered. "There were only seconds left on the clock, maybe 15 seconds. I don't know. All I remember was pandemonium on the bench and we knew we had won. Before that we weren't breathing. The last 10 minutes, it was 2-1, it was like we had to hang on, but when she got that empty netter, I just can't even explain what it felt like. The excitement … that was something for me. I had dreamed mostly about the celebration because I had watched the 1980 (U.S. men’s) team so many times celebrate and that's what you always saw when they showed the ‘80 team. For me to celebrate, to able to whip my stick and gloves off and jump over the bench and pile onto my teammates, that was it for me, that was unbelievable."

But the celebration was cut short because the gold medal ceremony still was to come.

"You know what, it's funny," she said. "We regrouped, then all of a sudden the emotions start to pour in and you just want to break down, but you have to hold it together because the medals are coming your way. I hadn't thought about the medal itself and all of a sudden, a tray of medals – there 20 medals – are now standing in the front and they were coming at me and I almost started hyperventilating.

"I hadn't really gone there yet. So when it went over my neck, I remember the heaviness of it. It was heavier than I ever thought and I had to show my family right away and share it with them."

The Granato family had two members on U.S. Olympic hockey teams that year. Tony was with the U.S. men’s squad.

The gold medal ended up on display at Don and Natalie Granato's home because Cammi Granato didn't have a permanent residence for a long time because she was playing with the U.S. National Team and was traveling extensively. Today, the medal is in the trophy room of her home in Vancouver, where she lives with her husband, former NHL center Ray Ferraro. But it does seem kind of fitting that the medal was at Don and Natalie’s house for years considering that their basement once featured the best players ever developed in Downers Grove, Ill.

The Granato kids.

Quote of the Day

It's a big milestone for me and I'm happy to help my team with lots of good teammates. It's fun.

— Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, who on Wednesday became the ninth Russian-born player, and ninth Red Wings player, to score 300 NHL goals
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