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Sunday Long Read

Granato making strides for NHL Seattle as League's first female pro scout

Hockey Hall of Famer helping expansion team get ready for 2021

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

The NHL is celebrating Gender Equality Month in March, and throughout the month, NHL.com will be featuring women who are Making Hockey Happen. 

To start the month, we profile former U.S. Olympian Cammi Granato, who is now a full-time pro scout for the Seattle NHL expansion team.

 

VANCOUVER -- Cammi Granato arrives at Seat No. 17 in the press box at Rogers Arena half an hour before the national anthems are set to begin for the game that night between the Vancouver Canucks and Nashville Predators. It is mid-February, and she looks chic -- a camel coat, black booties, hair around her shoulders, standing out in a row that contains only men in suits. She has mostly avoided Vancouver's unfortunate traffic and has arrived at her spot with plenty of time to settle in for the night's work.

She is there to watch. There to evaluate. There to help fashion a database of talent that will inform the actions of the NHL Seattle expansion team -- whatever its name turns out to be -- for the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and beyond. It is what she does full-time now, being hired in September as the first female pro scout in NHL history.

She has a routine, taking out a slender notebook emblazoned with the NHL shield and "Seattle" in red block lettering, setting her glasses on her nose, making a cup of tea -- organic chamomile or, her preference, Egyptian Licorice -- and removing a gold pen that will later cease to work.

The 48-year-old Hockey Hall of Famer has quickly taken to this role, drawing on a lifetime of hockey knowledge, the sport having been a constant companion essentially since birth. She observes the ice with her chin in her hand, stopping every so often to make a tiny notation in that notebook, a shorthand that she has developed to help her write the reports that she will send in with her characteristic perfectionism.

It feels right, really, after all the time she has spent talking hockey to her brothers and her husband, all that time informally evaluating players, trying to figure them out, to make assessments. Then, there was nothing on the line.

Now, it's different.

That's part of the learning curve for Granato, as she eases into her job as a professional scout based in Vancouver, watching the NHL's Western Conference teams and helping Seattle create a system and a knowledge of the League that it will use as it attempts to build a team from scratch.

"It's a natural progression," Granato said. "You're writing down comments that you've thought before, but now they actually matter. It's a pretty natural transition. Don't get me wrong: I have a lot to learn and I have a lot to see and I have a lot of data to take in, but just the fit of it is very natural."

That's why Seattle general manager Ron Francis wanted her as part of his team. He looked at the franchise he was building, one where they're attempting to do things just a little bit differently, perhaps as much in the mold of a tech company as an NHL team. He knew that if he wanted diversity of opinion, diversity of voices, here was a person perfectly positioned to offer exactly that.

"With all due respect to all my other hires on the pro scouting staff," Francis said, "she might have the most qualifications with the gold medal and the Hockey Hall of Fame resume."

****

Long before Granato arrives at Rogers Arena, she has already done much of the work necessary to make this evening a success. After filing her most recent report -- from a game two days before against the Calgary Flames -- Granato prepped by watching a little video of the Predators. This is the second time they have come through Vancouver, and so Granato has already gotten a chance to see them this season.

She has picked out half a dozen players to focus on, as she does for every game, writing their names on a yellow post-it note that she will tuck under her notebook. She realized early the impossibility of focusing on everyone, given her need to watch them off the puck, and has since narrowed her gaze to a specific few, looking for quality over quantity.

"The first game I went to, I showed up and I thought I had to write out everybody, right?" she says. "It was more education. So [now], one of the things I like is knowing who I'm going to look at and then if someone else jumps out, fine."

She scribbles something in that tiny writing.

"It gets easier as you watch," she says. "You can pick out the other players too. I think by honing in on the right players, it doesn't feel as chaotic in your head about, who do I watch? And then you might notice somebody else, a player on the other line or a defenseman or something. You can write a couple sentences, you can write a paragraph. It's all on your preference."

It's 7:06 into the first period and Zack MacEwan opens the scoring for the Canucks. There are ebbs and flows in the game and, Granato notes, some of the players are less sluggish than they were two nights ago, in a 6-2 loss to the Flames, when the Canucks were in their first game back home after a five-game road trip.

She seems confident, her eyes constantly on the ice, before swiveling up to a mounted television to watch a replay. It's a far cry from that first game, when she entered the arena with all the trepidation of a first day on the job, Hall of Fame plaque notwithstanding.

It was, she said, overwhelming.

"There was a guy next to me, first shift he starts writing literally 10 seconds into the game," Granato recalled. "They didn't really give me direction on what we're supposed to write, so I'm like, what did he just write down? I didn't see anything there. And you're watching and then you realize like five minutes in, OK, I noticed this or I noticed that, and I started writing it down."

She settled in. It got easier.

****

Granato was just starting to think about what was next when Seattle was awarded an NHL team on Dec. 4, 2018. The city was three hours away from her home in Vancouver, and that made it a possibility. She has two sons, 13 and 10 years old, and since retiring from playing, her primary job has always been at home, especially important given that her husband, former longtime NHL player and current TSN broadcaster Ray Ferraro, is on the road four or five days per week.

She thought that the Seattle team might provide an opportunity, one that could work with what she has always wanted to have at home, given all the travel and all the moving of her playing career. She had already been hired once by Tim Leiweke, co-founder of the Oak View Group, which is developing the Key Arena project in Seattle, and brother of Seattle president Tod Leiweke. Tim Leiweke, then the president of the Los Angeles Kings, hired Granato to do radio color commentary for the 1998-99 season, making her the second woman to ever hold such a position (Sherry Ross was the first, for the New Jersey Devils starting in 1992).

"I knew that with the people involved, how exciting the franchise was going to be from the start," Granato said. "They were going to do it right."

But she hadn't yet made any overtures when her phone rang.

It was Francis.

He had gotten her number from Ferraro, a former Hartford Whalers teammate. He offered Granato the job on the spot. She knew immediately she would accept.

"He told me to think about it for the weekend, but just the way he laid it out I knew right away that it would work," Granato said. "You couldn't beat the situation with the way it all fit, being able to just scout here right now, start out that way. So it was a no-brainer to say yes. I was thrilled."

So was he. He was hiring a woman who had been captain of the United States team that won the first Olympic gold medal for women's hockey, at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. A woman who, in 2010, became one of the first two females in the Hockey Hall of Fame, inducted alongside Angela James. A woman who had scored 115 points (63 goals, 52 assists) in 64 international tournament games. A woman who had once been invited to training camp with the New York Islanders, though she declined.

"When I was going through the interview process with our owners, I was encouraged -- and I believe it was [Hollywood producer] Jerry Bruckheimer -- to think outside the box," Francis said of the team's principal owner. "Don't just do the norm because that's the norm. You have an opportunity to think outside the box. Don't be afraid to do that. So we we're looking at different people for pro scouting and then I started thinking, why not somebody like Cammi?"

This, after all, is what Seattle is doing in all facets of its hiring. It's a team that, again, many have likened to a tech start-up, from the open-concept seating in the offices to the way it has tried to fit into its Seattle surroundings to the hires it's making.

"I think everything we're looking at doing in Seattle is a bit different," Francis said. "We have 46 percent of our staff are female and 24 percent with different ethnic backgrounds. So to get somebody like Cammi to break that barrier and be the first female pro scout, I think was exciting for the organization as well.

"For me, I'm most concerned about getting good information. And I felt comfortable that by putting her in that place we were going to get information and that's been the case. Her work is outstanding."

He expected nothing less.

"I'm sure there's people that think women don't belong doing it," Granato said. "But I've been hearing that my whole life. It's not anything new. It doesn't bother me because if it was something I didn't know and I wasn't comfortable or confident in, then it [would be tough]. But I'm confident in it. I've played thousands of games. I know there's people that have an opinion that's negative. But I can't do anything about that."

****

The first time she submitted a report, it took her six, seven hours. She sat at her kitchen island, the kids at school, Ferraro working at the table near her. The spellings were checked, the evaluations perfected, but still she hesitated when it was time to push the button.

She was nervous. She wanted to be sure. She wanted to be good and right and impress her bosses.

"It wasn't even that detailed," she says now. "I [didn't] want to hit send. Should I hit send? This is my first one. You think, is this right? But there's really no right or wrong answer.

"I stared at the button for long enough where I'm like, OK, I've got to submit it."

She finally hit send.

"Yeah," Francis said, chuckling, "we told her that was too long."

Though, in reality, he wasn't surprised.

"I think she's a bit of a perfectionist," Francis said. "She really wants to do a good job and she wants to make sure she's not letting us down. We kept trying to explain to her it takes some time. You're going to see a team multiple times and see players multiple times before you get real comfortable with them. But trust what you see, trust your gut, and write what you see."

The reports are the start of the database that Seattle is building, to plan for the expansion draft, for free agency, the basis of an understanding of the League when the team begins play in the 2021-22 season.

Which is not easy.

There is this offseason's free agency period. There is next season's 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. The teams that they're scouting could look significantly different by the time the expansion draft rolls around. But they need to be ready, for whatever is coming.

"You can try to project, but our biggest focus is [to] try to get a database on everybody," Granato said. "You have to be prepared for anything because if that person you think is going to be available isn't and someone else is and you don't know them [you're in trouble]. You've got to have everyone covered."

Seattle's five professional scouts -- Stu Barnes, John Goodwin, Dave Hunter, Ulf Samuelsson and Granato-- convened in Seattle in late January, getting a tour and an introduction to all things NHL Seattle. The group performed a mock draft and did a preliminary analysis of free agency, all the while knowing how much can change before they're performing those tasks for real.

As for those reports, Granato has streamlined the process, starting the work the day after the game, and finalizing it and submitting it the following day, often another game day. That is what she has done this morning, following that up with the video study of the Predators, a peek at some statistical data. She enters the lineups in her notebook, noting the players she will study in particular, perhaps breaking down some of them.

It took her maybe 10 games to get comfortable, 10 games to understand what she was doing and where her eyes should be, what she should be looking for and what her bosses wanted from her.

"I'm just right now looking at how I can describe their skill and their skating ability, skate, pivot, backward, forward, all the skating skills," she said. "Puck skills. Awareness. Speed. If they're hungry for the puck, if they're showing those sorts of things. The attributes of the player, really looking at that."

She has now seen the Canucks enough to know when a player is performing better than normal, or worse, able to watch a game for the opponent and still pick up bits on the Canucks players she knows so well. Two nights earlier, she said, she watched six Calgary Flames players, and still had reports to write on the Canucks.

For Granato, an offensively talented forward, it's the offensive side that has been the easier one to figure.

"A guy with really good vision, a scorer, a guy that can find himself that open space or only need a little space to get a goal, those things I pick up right away because that's how I played," Granato said. "Anything with that part of the game is really, really easy to spot.

"You notice who gets rid of [the puck] right away and what they do with it and how responsible they are with it. Those jump out."

The defensive side has taken more study. It's less natural for her, less intuitive.

"Defensive play is more of a responsibility that you have to be committed to and so you have to watch that longer than just a period or two periods," she said. "You've got to really, over time, see how consistently [they play]."

****

Granato opens a Larabar Lemon Bar in the third period and fixes a second cup of tea. Her eyes have strayed from her initial targets, as she feels confident in the information she has absorbed over the first two periods.

It's far harder to glean anything at this point, when the game has gone a bit off the rails for the visitors, who now trail by four goals. The urgency has calmed. Still, she broadens her scope, tries to pick up bits and pieces on other players that she can sock away for later.

She knows she still has so much to learn. But every day, every game, it is getting better.

"As far as evaluating talent, it's one thing to watch a game and it's another to actually scout it for a job and really have to be right," Granato said. "You can't just guess, you can't form an opinion and just think you know it. You have to really know it. You have to be patient, as much as I want to know everything and tackle everything. It's a process.

"I look at it like peeling the layers back. I can see a player and make a judgment on the game, but I'm going to need to see them multiple times before I can see if that's consistent or I can see tendencies. Now maybe I'm noticing their skill and attributes that they carry, but then after a while you notice their compete level and attitude and consistency, how they react to certain situations. So that takes time. It doesn't just happen in a year."

This is her 27th home game. She has started watching the games on TV more closely, knowing that that provides additional - if different - avenues for her to continue to refine her knowledge. But that is a far cry from the scouts that have been at it for five, 10, 20 years.

By the end of the game, the row has emptied.

Granato understands that, like most of her brethren, she could leave early. And she might, someday. She is not there yet. She does not feel that she has earned the ability to beat the traffic, to head home to her kids and her reports before the final buzzer has sounded.

For now, she's still making her way in the job, in the industry, breaking barriers in the way she always has. It was something that didn't entirely occur to her when she took the job, when she didn't hesitate before telling Francis that she was all in.

She met a girl in Seattle on her visit in late January, at a scouting Q & A session. Meg. The girl raised her hand and said, "How do you become a scout?"

It was at that moment that the importance of what she was doing became clear. She understood. 

"In her mind now, that's another option," Granato said. "I didn't really think about that."

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