Hall induction caps Granato's trail-blazing career
For U.S. Olympic gold medalist and women's hockey pioneer Cammi Granato, being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame is the crowning achievement to a hockey career brimming with accolades.
Granato, joined by Canadian hockey star Angela James, will become one of the first two women inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame when the 2010 class is enshrined Nov. 8. Granato and James will be joined by NHL legend Dino Ciccarelli in the players' category. Red Wings executive Jimmy Devellano and former Calgary owner Darryl "Doc" Seaman enter in the builders' category.
"It's something that I never ever thought was attainable," Granato told NHL.com. "For me, the Hockey Hall of Fame is somewhere where legends go, where your idols go. My heart starts to beat faster when I think about it. I can't believe that it's even possible that I'm going to be inducted."
Cammi Granato (Getty Images)
In many ways, Granato's hockey career has been a dream come true. But it’s a dream that almost didn't materialize.
Minor hockey for girls didn't exist in the United States when Granato first convinced her mom to sign her up for hockey instead of figure skating.
She was just 5 at the time, but hockey was -- and still is -- a way of life for the Granato family.
In fact, Cammi's older brother, Tony, had a 14-year career in the NHL, served two stints as coach of the Colorado Avalanche, and currently works as an assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"We were a hockey family first and everything else was secondary," Cammi Granato said. "It was something about the game that we really, really loved. It was the first love."
The Granatos lived in a four-bedroom house nestled in the rolling hills of Downers Grove, Ill., in a neighborhood full of kids. For the six Granato children, their house served as a hockey academy, with daily mini-stick hockey scrimmages in the basement.
"That was like the essence of our childhood," Cammi said, laughing at the memory. "And that rink down there, it was just carpet with tape on it, but it was a real hockey rink to us. We were so into it."
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Day after day throughout her childhood, the kids would arrive home from school and be ordered to put on their play clothes -- sweat pants with holes in the knees -- before being allowed to start their daily hockey regime.
"We played like we were the Blackhawks playing the Canadiens, or we played like we were the Americans playing the Russians," Tony Granato told NHL.com. "I mean, we were competitive, there's no doubt about that, and (Cammi) is tough. She's probably tougher than all of us."
Tony and Cammi usually teamed up against the two middle Granato brothers, Robbie and Donnie. It was Donnie who facilitated the details of the games -- posting tournament details on the bulletin board and awarding trophies to the victors.
"That is what we wanted to do every day," Cammi said. "It was all-out. I remember even checking against the side of the basement. The whole wall would rattle because it was a false wall -- and that was the sign of a big check."
Those daily family competitions prepared Cammi to play with the boys on the ice, as well.
She played on her first ice-hockey team with her brother Rob and cousin Bob at age 5. It didn't bother Cammi that she was the only girl playing on all-boys teams.
"I didn't think about it. I had no idea that I was any different," she said. "I was just playing because I loved it."
The only real difference for Cammi was when she missed out on some of the team camaraderie in the locker room because she had to dress in the women's bathroom -- or occasionally in the broom closet.
"I couldn't stand it. I wanted to be in there for every moment," she said. "I remember waiting outside the locker room going, 'Is everyone dressed yet?' I hated that process. You feel like you missed out. But I had great teammates who never made me feel like I wasn't a part of it."
Despite occasional criticism from parents and players on opposing teams, Cammi continued to play hockey with the boys until her sophomore year of high school. Suddenly, there was a significant size difference between the 5-foot-7, 135-pound Cammi and the larger boys in her league.
"It's something that I never ever thought was attainable. For me, the Hockey Hall of Fame is somewhere where legends go, where your idols go. My heart starts to beat faster when I think about it. I can't believe that it's even possible that I'm going to be inducted." -- Cammi Granato
Reluctantly, she gave up on competitive ice hockey, opting for sports that offered all-girl teams, including basketball, handball, soccer and tennis.
Although hockey remained her first love, she all but decided to attend the University of Wisconsin to play soccer. While women's college hockey was gaining popularity at that time, only one school -- Providence College -- pursued Granato for its hockey team.
"I was literally between going to Providence for hockey and Wisconsin to play soccer," Granato said.
As soon as she found out she was accepted to Providence in late July, she made her decision.
Hockey it was.
"I don't know the circumstance. If I did play soccer at Wisconsin would I ever have known anything else?" Granato said. "Would I have ever put on my skates again? It was really interesting."
Granato's decision quickly was rewarded. She was named Rookie of the Year in her first season with the Lady Friars. In four years at Providence she set school scoring records, which she still holds to this day, for career points (256), single-season points (84), and career goals (139). She was named Eastern College Athletic Conference Player of the Year three years running, from 1991-93, and was named an ECAC All-Star four years straight. She also led the Lady Friars to back-to-back conference titles in 1992 and '93.
"When I ended up going to Providence, hitting the ice for the first time and being a part of the team, it was like, 'This is the greatest thing ever,'" she said.
While all this was going on, Granato also participated in the first International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championship, in 1990. It was the first time in history that women's hockey was taking the world stage, and not surprisingly, she was at the forefront.
After four successful years at Providence, Granato migrated north to play at Concordia University in Montreal, while earning her master's degree.
She represented Team USA at the international level through five more World Championships. By 1998, women's hockey reached its pinnacle when it was included for the first time in Olympic history at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.
It was Granato's ultimate childhood dream, one fashioned at the altar of the "Miracle on Ice" saga engineered by Team USA at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid.
"Just for me, growing up and watching the '80 team that had such an impact on us, getting to go to the Olympics was incredible," Granato said. "I just tried to soak in every moment."
Not only did Granato score the first goal of the tournament for the U.S., but she also served as team captain and led her team to a 3-1 victory in the gold-medal game against Canada.
"It was the most defining moment in my sports career," she said. "The best moment was the last 10 seconds, when we knew we had won because we scored an empty-net goal, and then watching the clock tick down … there was pandemonium.”
Now, 12 years removed from that career-defining moment, Granato's role as the face of women's hockey will be forever immortalized as she is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"She's done a lot not only for women's hockey in the United States, but all over the world," said Shelley Loony, a Team USA teammate of Granato's for 15 years. "It's wonderful for someone like her to be recognized the way she should.
"She's put everything she could into that sport, not only for herself but for the love of the game and helping it grow."
It is Cammi Granato's simple love of the game that took her from the hallways of the family home in Downers Grove to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"It's hard to believe how fast women's hockey has grown from what it was when she was playing it as my little sister when we were kids," Tony Granato said. "I'm so proud of her, I'm so grateful that she is going to be given this honor."