At long last, the Hockey Hall of Fame is inducting its first female members Monday.
For its entire history, the HHoF’s induction committee treated the Hall’s highest honor as the sole property of those with both X and Y chromosomes. Although nothing in the Hall’s regulations specifically forbade women from being inducted, the lack of even a single female – even in the builders category – spoke volumes about the institution’s attitude toward half of the population.
But with every passing year – and after other hockey Halls of Fame beat them to it (the IIHF and U.S.) – the HHoF finally did the right thing and announced that not one, but two women would be the first to go in and assume their rightful place among hockey’s immortals.
And in picking U.S. legend Cammi Granato and Canadian pioneer Angela James, the Hall couldn’t have done a more admirable job.
James – a Toronto native instrumental in Canada winning the first four gold medals at the women’s world championships that began in the 1990s – also was named the most valuable player at eight of 12 national championships in which she participated.
And although the now 45-year-old was left off Team Canada’s roster for the 1998 Olympics (a highly controversial decision at the time), all who are familiar with women’s hockey understand what a massive force James was both on the ice as well as in the growth of the sport. She has been a player, an official, and now coaches The Hockey News designer and goaltender Erika Vanderveer and the rest of her Canadian Women’s League’s team in Brampton, Ont.
Granato was born into a hockey family that includes older brother and former NHLer Tony Granato, as well as her husband and former NHLer Ray Ferraro, and has lived as if her life depended on the game.
She represented America at every World Championship from 1990 to 2005. She captained the first U.S. Olympic women’s team in 1998, scored the first Olympic goal for the Americans and led her teammates to the first gold medal at that tournament. She won two Four Nations Cups, one World Championship and was awarded the 2007 Lester Patrick Trophy for exemplary service to U.S. hockey.
Yet, even as we celebrate the inclusion of women in the HHoF, there is grumbling that it was a wrong decision – that, somehow, female players are to be directly compared with males; or that, because the Hall has stipulated as many as two women can now be inducted each year, there won’t be enough quality females to honor in the near future.
This is the same bucketload of crap that has kept women on the outside of hockey looking in for so long.
Fortunately, female players have grown accustomed to it.
“For women in hockey – and I’d say probably for women in all sports – you’re used to waiting, you’re used to proving yourself, you’re used to the naysayers,” said Granato. “There will be some catching up to do in terms of inductions, because women’s hockey has been played for a long time now – and even before the international game and the Olympics came into being, there were a lot of women who were contributing to the game.”
The idea that there is a finite amount of HHoF-worthy females simply doesn’t hold up to even a minimal amount of scrutiny.
To begin with, there are more than a few current or recently retired players – such as Hayley Wickenheiser, Angela Ruggiero, Geraldine Heaney and Cassie Campbell – who are virtual locks to get in.
Then there are women like James who never received the recognition today’s elite women get: Canadians France St–Louis, Shirley Cameron and Abby Hoffman, and Finnish female legend Tiia Reima are but a few who fall into that category.
As well, there are women who deserve recognition in the HHoF’s builder’s category: Fran Rider, the longtime head of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, is one such person; another is Mississauga, Ont., mayor Hazel McCallion, who has been one of the biggest proponents of the women’s game since she began playing in the 1920s.
The narrow-minded folks who stomped and screamed and moaned to keep women out of the HHoF will never be convinced of the error of their backward ways.
For everyone else, the inductions of Granato and James should be seen as the beginning of an overdue process that will grow as the women’s game has.
“(The Hall of Fame honors) is a great sign we’re being acknowledged,” Granato said. “It’s a major stepping stone, a recognition that our sport belongs, that women belong, that there’s a place for us. It’s huge.”
This feature originally appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of The Hockey News magazine.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. Power Rankings appear Wednesdays, his blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.