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Cammi Granato Blazes Path for Women's Hockey

Thursday, 02.16.2012 / 4:11 PM / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
The fifth annual “Hockey Weekend Across America” is a three-day celebration of the sport of hockey that will take place Feb. 17-19 nationwide. It was created by USA Hockey in 2008 to engage the hockey community in celebrating the sport of hockey at all levels and exposing the sport to new audiences. (Click here for more information). In honor of that, pittsburghpenguins.com will be posting features and videos throughout the week to help further the cause.



Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato fell in love with the game of hockey when he was a little boy, and the rest of his younger brothers and sisters – all five of them – followed their oldest sibling to the sport.

They’d draw up teams and play any time they possibly could. Usually, it would be Tony and his sister Cammi paired up against the two middle brothers, Don and Rob. And whether they were playing ball hockey in the basement of the Granato family home in Downers Grove, Ill., in the summer or on the frozen pond across the street in the winter, the games tended to get pretty intense.

Cammi Granto (Getty Images)
“We were pretty competitive,” Granato smiled. “Any time we could get on the ice, we’d be out there playing. It was fun having siblings that loved the same thing that you loved. I think that’s where I was very blessed, having parents that saw the passion and love we had for the game of hockey as a family. Instead of thinking we were crazy, they let us have fun with it, learn from it and make it become a big part of our lives.”

Cammi did more than just hold her own with her brothers – she was tough and athletic and absolutely passionate about the game. That made Cammi fit in so seamlessly – shine, actually – that Tony didn’t notice anything strange about a girl playing hockey.

“I thought it was pretty normal to have a little sister that loved the game as much as Cammi did,” Tony said. “When I was playing with her, I thought it was normal for girls to play hockey. Why wouldn’t they? It’s a great game. Why wouldn’t you let girls play hockey? But I think as I got older, I realized that not a whole lot of my buddies’ sisters, if any, played hockey at that time. So it was a little bit unusual at that time.”

Cammi adored the game so much that she would do whatever it took to play. And since there were no amateur girls’ teams in suburban Chicago while she was growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, that meant she played organized hockey with the boys from kindergarten through her junior year in high school since she had no other option – and consequently endured a few tough times along the way.

“When she played and had to play with boys, she had to go through quite a few things that weren’t a whole lot of fun for her,” Tony said. “But she battled through that and I think it made her better and stronger because of it.

“I think in general, people thought hockey was a sport for men because it was physical, it was rough and they didn’t see the fact that women can be successful or there could be enough girls that would want to compete in a sport like that, and it’s the opposite. I think girls love hockey just as much as we do and it’s great that it’s finally accepted at the international level.”

And Cammi’s commitment, dedication and passion for the game would go on to play a fundamental role in raising the profile of women’s hockey here in the U.S., as she went on to become USA Hockey’s biggest star in the women’s game.

In the midst of a hugely successful four-year career at Providence College – one of just a few schools to offer scholarships in women’s hockey at the time – Granato partook in the inaugural International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championship in 1990 and represented the United States at every tournament after that until 2005.

When women’s hockey made its debut at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, Granato captained the Americans to a stunning upset of the favored Canadians in the gold medal game that gave the female side of the sport a profile here in the States.

Tony and Cammi Granato (Getty Images)
And 12 years later, after an incredibly successful and decorated career that helped create many opportunities and dreams for little girls across the country, Cammi received the ultimate honor: being one of the first two women to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The day Cammi received the news was an emotional one for the Granato family, and one that made them reflect on what she’s accomplished and the trails she’s blazed simply because of a desire to play this incredible game and a refusal to accept that she couldn't do so.

“She’s a great ambassador for her sport. You can call her a pioneer; you can call her whatever you want,” Tony said. “But if you look back on it, the reason that it was so enjoyable for us to watch is just because she loved hockey. She couldn’t figure out why she couldn’t play hockey. She did everything she could. She changed her name to Carl Granato to play in a tournament in Canada because no girls were allowed to play. She put her ponytail up under her helmet so guys and parents on the other team wouldn’t know they were playing against a girl. She had to go through all those things.”

Now, there are so many more opportunities for little girls to fall in love with the sport. They can still look up to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, but now the 65,609 females registered with USA Hockey (as of 2011) can look up to role models like Cammi Granato, too.

“Now, it’s great because when you walk into a hockey rink and you see girls carrying their hockey bags in, it puts a smile on your face that this game is respected from both sides as being a sport that both can play and both can play extremely well,” Tony said.
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