Downers Grove native Cammi Granato, a pioneer of women's hockey in the United States, will help blaze a new trail tonight in Toronto.
One of the founding members of the U.S. women's national hockey team, Granato—who gained international fame as captain of the 1998 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic women's team—is one of two women who'll be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Granato joins Canada's Angela James, dubbed the Wayne Gretzky of women's hockey, as the first women ever to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The induction ceremonies kicked off Nov. 5 and conclude tonight when Granato is officially inducted.
"I dreamed of being in the NHL my entire life, and this certainly makes up for those dreams," Granato said after learning she would be inducted this past June. "Being amongst the first women to play at college and later at the Olympics, it certainly was worthwhile being a hockey pioneer."
Of course, this isn't the first time Granato has cracked the glass ceiling as far as securing noteworthy honors in the sport. In 2008, she became the first woman to be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Also that year, Granato was one of the first three women inducted into International Ice Hockey's Hall of Fame.
In 2007, Granato became the first woman to receive the NHL's Lester Patrick Award, given annually to individuals for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.
"As a kid, I was an equal. I never thought of myself any different," Granato said at the time she was awarded the Lester Patrick honor. "I wanted to be a Chicago Blackhawk just like my brothers."
Cammi, who has four brothers and a sister, ended up playing hockey in the basement of the family's home in Downers Grove with her older brothers, Tony and Don Jr., who made her the goaltender.
"We were always looking for little brothers and sisters to play goal, so Cammi was playing whether she liked it or not," Tony said in a 1993 Sports Illustrated story.
"My brothers used to beat me up and throw me in goal," Cammi said, "but they made me an athlete."
Cammi's mother, Natalie—who with her husband, Don Sr., had one of their first dates at a Blackhawks game—told SI she signed Cammi up for figure skating lessons when she was 4, but Cammi didn't make it through the first lesson. The figure skating studio just happened to be near a hockey rink.
"As soon as I turned my back during that first lesson," Natalie said, "she walked right off the ice through the door to watch a hockey game."
Cammi traded her figure skates for hockey stakes and played forward for the Downers Grove Huskies from kindergarten through her junior year in high school. Usually she was the only girl on the all-boys team. Boys on opposing teams often tried to intimidate her, but she proved she could dish out some checks, too, and displayed a knack for crisp passing and scoring key goals.
A Downers North High School graduate, Cammi exhibited a wide range of athleticism—enough to where she received interest from the University of Wisconsin (where Tony and Don Jr. played hockey) to play soccer. She also got recruiting letters from Division III basketball programs. (Cammi played tennis for the Trojans, as well.)
However, Cammi ended up receiving a scholarship at Providence College—one of only three schools at the time that offered hockey scholarships to women. She played four years with the Friars, scoring 135 goals and 110 assists in 93 games.
After graduating from Providence, Cammi had used up all of her NCAA eligibility. Yet she still wanted to play hockey, so she moved to Montreal, attended graduate school at Concordia University and joined the school's women's hockey team—one of the top squads in the Quebec Inter-collegiate Women's Hockey League. In 123 games, she piled up 178 goals and 148 assists while earning a master's degree in sports administration.
Back in 1990, Cammi had became one of the inaugural members of Team USA, and continued to be part of the squad throughout her career at Providence and Concordia. In 1992, the International Olympic Committee made women's ice hockey a medal sport; it would debut at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
At the '98 Olympics, Cammi scored four goals and four assists in five games while serving as team captain. Team USA went undefeated in the tournament and defeated Team Canada in the gold-medal game, 3-1.
Cammi, who carried the flag for the U.S. team during the Olympic's closing ceremonies, became one of the country's most recognized female athletes following Team USA's gold-medal performance. She eventually got her picture on Wheaties boxes, and later became the second woman broadcaster in NHL history when she joined the Los Angeles Kings' broadcast booth as a radio commentator.
In 2002, Cammi suited up once again for Team USA in the Olympics. She tallied 10 points in five games (6 goals, 4 assists)—including a goal in the goal-medal game. This time, however, Team Canada took home the gold following a 3-2 victory.
Cammi hoped to play for Team USA in 2006, but she surprisingly was cut from the squad before the Olympics. She remains international hockey's all-time leading scorer among women with 54 goals and 96 points in 54 games.
These days, Cammi lives in Vancouver with her husband, Ray Ferraro—a former NHL player—and their two sons, Riley and Reese. She was a color commentator for NBC at the 2010 Winter Olympics and currently is a spokesperson for letsmove.org—a nonprofit organization started by First Lady Michelle Obama to combat childhood obesity.
On Monday night, Granato reaches another milestone with her induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame—arguably hockey's most prestigious honor.
"The only way I know how to say it: To be inducted is the most surreal experience," Cammi told the Calgary Herald in a recent interview. "That's a place for legends and a place for your idols, and that's a place you don't ever think you'll be a part of. So to get a call and be told you've been selected is mind-boggling.
"There's so many emotions and it means so much; I'm in awe of it. Then, when you look at the historical part, that's where you feel really lucky. To go in with Angela and be the first, it hits home even harder."
Two of Cammi's brothers, Tony and Don Jr., have enjoyed successful careers in professional hockey. Tony, a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team, played in the NHL 14 years and was head coach of the Colorado Avalanche. He is now an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Don, meanwhile, was head coach of the Chicago Wolves in 2008-09 and for the start of the 2009-10 campaign. Previous to that, he had been head coach of the Columbus Chill and Peoria Rivermen of the East Coast Hockey League.