There was no place for new Vancouver Canucks assistant GM Cammi Granato to play.
She’d spend hours playing hockey with her brothers in the family basement or on their driveway. Granato loved the game. But girls didn’t play hockey. And so, her parents put her in figure skating.
Granato was unhappy and determined to find her space in the game she loved. Granato’s parents soon relented and put their daughter onto a boys’ hockey team. For the Olympic gold medallist, world champion and Hockey Hall of Famer, the rest is history.
Now, Granato is hoping to inspire a new generation of women and girls to push for what they want – and deserve – in sport by saying, “I can play too.”
“I remember following my brothers around and playing every single game they’d play, and our favorite game was hockey,” Granato said. “We’d play in the driveway and make games in the living room, just playing with our hand. For my parents, they thought, ‘You want to skate, so we’ll put you in figure skating lessons like your sister.’ It didn’t even cross their mind to put me in hockey. It’s just not what girls did. There were just no girls who played hockey.”
Granato learned to skate across the road from her home on a field flooded by local firemen each winter, a place she called her “winter playground.” Arriving at the arena wearing her white skates, however, it wasn’t where Granato wanted to be – or what she wanted to do. “I just wasn’t interested,” she said. “I was quite miserable, I’d leave the rink and go watch hockey, and I think at that point my parents realized I really loved the game and saw me playing with my brothers, so they just let me give it a try. I don’t think they thought it was going to be a lifelong thing. I commend my parents for supporting me and saying, ‘Just let her do it. Even though it’s not the norm, let’s just let her do it.’ ”
For years, the only woman in sport who Granato could see as a role model was American speed skater Bonnie Blair. “She was dominating speed skating,” Granato said. “I just thought, ‘She’s like my idol.’ There’s a woman in this position of winning Olympic medals left and right, she was my first role model.”
Later, Granato would find a pamphlet for Providence College showing their women’s hockey team, including Cindy Curley, the team’s leading scorer. “She was leading the team,” Granato said. “And I said, ‘I want to be that, I want to be her, I want to go play college hockey, I want to be at the top of the statistics with her.’ It was really cool for the first time to understand that women play hockey.”
With that, Granato travelled to Providence unrecruited and began her hockey career. In 1990, Granato would play alongside Curley at the first IIHF-sanctioned women’s World Championship. Curley was the tournament’s leading scorer, Granato was third en route to Team USA taking silver. Even though she was now at the highest level, Granato continued hearing stories of women who did not see themselves in sport.
The 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, represented the first time women were allowed to play hockey at the Olympics. And following Granato and Team USA’s gold-medal win, the lack of representation for women in the game became a regular conversation for Granato. “I heard a lot of stories when we won the Olympic gold medal of girls who wanted to play hockey when they were younger, but they weren’t allowed because it was a man’s sport. I consider myself very lucky that I got to play.”
Through her youth, playing for Team USA, in raising her children and her former role as a scout for the NHL’s Seattle Kraken, Granato recognizes that representation for women in sport is still lacking in many ways.
Granato knows this deters some girls from entering the sports sphere. Aside from her own childhood, Granato first recognized this gap while reading to her children. “When I started reading to my kids when they were young, it became a fun ritual for us, and we really got a lot of joy out of it,” Granato said. “We’d read together every night, and I recognized my three-year-old was really drawn to sports books and action, but I didn’t notice women represented in that space, so I thought, it would be really fun to write a book about a young girls’ hockey player kind of based on my story and how I grew up and how it happened for me.”
And that’s what she did.
Granato recently released a children’s book titled I Can Play Too, which she hopes inspires more youth of any gender or background to try hockey, and see themselves in sport. “I want them to know that they can play too,” Granato said. “Not just hockey, whatever your passion is. If it’s different and no one else who looks like you is doing it and you love it, you should follow that dream and follow that passion and love for it. You shouldn’t be denied an opportunity. It’s not just hockey, it’s not just a girl trying to play hockey, it’s anyone that’s ever felt like they don’t belong, but that’s what they want to do. They should do it.”
One of the people who has watched Granato’s journey from start to finish is her nephew, Dom, who illustrated the book. Dom, who is gay, and plays hockey for an LGBTQ hockey team in San Francisco, always saw his aunt breaking barriers and used her as inspiration. “I’d heard this story over and over again knowing Cammi’s story,” Dom said. “I wasn’t reading it in a book, but I was being told it as kids are being told it now. Cammi has always been a big role model of mine, not just on the ice, which is not debatable, but off the ice she’s an amazing person, she’s been super inspiring in all lanes of life.”
Dom Granato knows the feeling of feeling like an outsider in hockey. He hopes others will soon feel empowered and safe enough to be themselves within the game. “I felt at some points in my career that the two worlds wouldn’t mix, that if I came out as gay that I wouldn’t be able to play hockey. That scared me. Toward the end of my career, I did end up coming out to a few close teammates when I was playing at Tufts University. Those couple of months felt like the best months of my career, I was able to do both, to coexist playing hockey and being myself.”
He hopes young readers won’t need to wait as long as he did to feel they belong in hockey. “Hopefully people seeing this book will see that girls have their space in hockey,” Dom said. “Or a person of any gender has a space, or can make their own space in whatever game or sport they’re interested in.”
Cammi Granato made her space. From leaning over the boards with figure skates on her feet watching boys play hockey, to becoming one of the greatest American-born hockey players in history, to now serving as one of the first women scouting at the NHL level, Granato has shown anything is possible. She said through her actions, and now in words, that she, and other women and girls, or people of any identity, can play the game of hockey too. “It doesn’t have to be a girl, it can be a boy, a transgender child, any time you’ve felt that way, you shouldn’t be held back by what other people think,” Granato said. “They might not understand yet because they’ve never seen a girl play hockey, so it might be different for them, but you just have to do what you love and keep going. I think that message for me is the most important one because I think a lot of us have had to feel that way.”