In August 2005, one of the most shocking events in women’s hockey history took place. Ben Smith, then-head coach of the USA national team, decided to cut longtime captain Cammi Granato from the roster for the upcoming Turin Olympics. The Americans paid the price for Smith’s decision, losing 3-2 to Sweden in the semi-finals while seemingly incapable of replacing Granato’s leadership. However, even though this 36-year-old Illinois native didn’t exit the international game on her own terms, she left a legacy that won’t quickly be forgotten. She led the Americans to the gold medal at the 1998 Olympics, and she is the all-time leading scorer in women’s IIHF competition with 54 goals and 96 points. Granato currently resides in Vancouver with her husband, former NHLer Ray Ferraro, both of whom signed on last month to work for FASTHockey.com, an amateur hockey and player recruiting web site. In a recent chat with HockeyCanada.ca, Granato reflected on what it was like to be a young American girl with hockey aspirations in the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s.
HockeyCanada.ca: How did you get started playing hockey?
Cammi Granato: I lived in a family with six kids, so I had three older brothers, and an older sister. When I was five years old, we had this area across the street from our house where they froze the entire field off. We'd skate out there. At three years old I was out there, trying to skate. It was like our winter playground. We were on skates all winter. When I was five my mom put me in figure skating lessons, because that's what my sister did, and that's what the girls did. I guess I'd leave the figure skating lessons at the studio rink and go watch hockey. I wouldn't stay on the ice because I got bored. My mom looked for me and realized I had left the arena. She'd catch me watching the hockey game and I'd tell her this is what I wanted to do. She made a deal with me that if I completed my lessons that year I could quit and play hockey the following year. I started from there. I played on a house team when I was six with my brother and my cousin. I fell in love with the game. It was our family passion. In Illinois it wasn't all that big to begin with, but we had season tickets to the Blackhawks. We'd go to all the games, and again, we had that winter playground. We were on the ice all the time playing hockey after I started. It was a lot of fun.
HockeyCanada.ca: Obviously your brother Tony got a lot of attention because he made it to the NHL, but I know you give a lot of credit to your other brothers, Don and Robb, as well.
Granato: All my brothers were really successful in the sense that all three got college scholarships, and all three of them were captains at Wisconsin. They set the bar for me. It was the norm for people in our family to get a scholarship. They'd also bring home some really cool training techniques. One brother would always have video of Wayne Gretzky and highlight tapes of other top goal-scorers. We'd watch the "Miracle on Ice" movie and the game against the Russians all the time. They were students of the game. Having that influence at home, I was really lucky that way. They'd come home from college with a weight vest and do these squat jumps in the yard, and no one had ever heard of that at the time. They were right up on the training, and I got to see that firsthand. That's what I wanted to do too. I was influenced by the level they set and it was a crucial help.
HockeyCanada.ca: Talk about your years at Providence College, where you became the school’s all-time leading scorer with 139 goals.
Granato: That felt like the pinnacle at the time. I really had a hard time understanding when I became a teenager that I couldn't go as far in hockey as my brothers because I was a girl. I didn't want to accept it. It was hard because I loved the game just as much as they did. I was good at the game, and I was successful at every level I played at. I just couldn't understand it. When I found out they had women's hockey out East, because they didn't have any in the Midwest, I knew I wanted to pursue that. So I went to Providence on a scholarship, and I thought that was the greatest thing ever: getting to play hockey and getting an education at the same time. I fit right in at Providence, and I loved every minute of it. I loved the fact we got to practice every day. It was a high commitment. Meeting other girls that felt that way was pretty neat. Everyone had stories to share about playing with boys. We had a lot of players on that team that ended up playing for the national team. We had a pretty committed group. I really thought that was the pinnacle. I thought that was it. I was enjoying it all. Then in my senior year, I found out we'd been accepted into the Olympics.
HockeyCanada.ca: What do you remember about the lead-up to the first World Championship in Ottawa in 1990?
Granato: I remember the tryout. It was at Northeastern University on a weekend. If I had been in Chicago and it had been a year before, I wouldn't have heard about it. But because I was in college in the East, we knew this tryout was happening. I'm pretty sure it was the only place where tryouts happened, too. Basically just the East Coast, whoever was in college. A couple of high school girls were on the team from the East. We tried out that weekend, and I remember it being the most grueling tryout. We skated for about five hours a day, two days straight. We had morning sessions for a couple of hours, and then we'd go back on and play a game at night. It was grueling but a lot of fun. I actually don't even remember how we were told when they picked the team. As far as the funding, I remember one of the girls got sweats. She got us sponsors to give sweats and a hockey bag. We got a team jacket from USA Hockey. Then we got together up in Lake Placid for about two days before we went to Ottawa. The funding just started improving more and more in the 15 years I played. From 1990 to now, it's gotten totally different.