From Olympian to Canucks: How Granato's family shaped her hockey journey

New Canucks assistant GM Cammi Granato discusses the advantages of how well she knows this roster from her scouting role within the Seattle Kraken.

VANCOUVER – The first team Cammi Granato was on was her family’s.

It was a juggernaut -- six kids, mostly hockey-crazed, growing up in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove with big dreams. But what Granato achieved Thursday, introduced as the Vancouver Canucks’ newest assistant general manager, could scarcely have been dreamed when she was little.

“I think it's important for these young girls to know this is possible,” Granato, 50, said. “That happened to me with scouting (with the Seattle Kraken). We were at a fan panel with all the pro scouts and one of the girls, at the very end, asked how she could become a pro scout. In that moment, I realized this really is an opportunity for young girls to actually aspire. For me, I couldn't aspire. I mean, it just didn't seem possible.”

And yet, no one in the game should be surprised that Granato, an American hockey icon, a Hockey Hall-of-Famer who captained the U.S. women’s team to the 1998 Olympic gold medal and then carried the torch into the Olympic stadium in Salt Lake City four years later, is now an assistant GM in the National Hockey League.

She was hired from the Kraken, which three years ago made her the first woman to be a full-time professional scout in the NHL.

The only surprise is that the Canucks, under the progressive vision of president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford, suddenly have two female AGMs after hiring player agent Emilie Castonguay on Jan. 26.

Granato’s family is not surprised.

“Not even a little bit,” her big sister, Christi Granato, said over the phone from her home in Wisconsin. “Cammi always played with the boys. In fact, I tried for years to get her to play Barbies with me and she was terrible at it. It doesn't surprise me at all because I think of her as one of the boys. And I don't even know if that's something politically correct to say nowadays, but we have three brothers between us and Joey came along many years later, and this is just Cammi being Cammi.

“When my mom handed her to me on the front porch, I was six years old. She said: ‘Here she is, your baby sister.' And I really took it to heart like, oh my god, she's all mine. She has always been about the team and she shuns every reference to anything with the word ‘self’ in it. You have to remember, we kind of grew up in a team. Donny said in his interview with Buffalo, that we were the first team he ever had. It's fun to have that point of reference, but it's so true.”

Don Granato is the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Tony Granato, who had an excellent playing career in the National Hockey League before coaching the Colorado Avalanche, runs the men’s hockey program at the University of Wisconsin.

But now Cammi, second youngest of six Granatos, tops the family in hockey (if she hadn’t already) by becoming a ground-breaking assistant GM in the NHL.

Her two other brothers are Robby and Joey.

A photo of the Granato family from left to right: Donny, Tony, Cammi, Robby, Christi, Joey and parents Natalie and Don at their family reunion in 2010.

Cammi once called into a weekly sports-talk radio show Christi Granato hosted in Chicago to argue with her sister about the Barbie accusation.

“She's probably the biggest support system for all of us,” Cammi said. “She's just been the one that's always been incredibly supportive. Anything that's going on with the family, she's on it. For me growing up, too, in a boys' sport which I got teased a lot for doing, she was always right by my side to stick up for me. The role of family for me has played a huge role in who I am today and my success.”

And it is a huge part of the appeal for Granato in Vancouver, where she moved to 20 years ago to be with her partner, broadcaster Ray Ferraro, and start a family. The couple has two sons, Riley, 15, and Reese, 12.

Granato spoke Thursday of her excitement about Rutherford’s vision, now executed, to build a hockey-operations staff of people with varying paths and experiences in the sport. Canuck general manager Patrik Allvin, the first Swede to hold a GM title in the NHL, was hired two weeks ago.

Granato loves the idea of collaborating, sharing ideas, being part of a team. Like a family.

“That really was an attractive part of taking the job -- a very, very exciting part,” she said. “The more diversified you are, the more different experiences you can draw on. But then you can collaborate together, which Jim has been adamant about. You're going to have a lot of different minds, a lot of different opinions, and we can draw from the strengths of everybody. So I think that really appeals to me -- not only to have Jim as a mentor. . . but the fact that he really wants to have this collaborative group and hear everybody's voice. That was super appealing to me.”

Rutherford said Granato will oversee the Canucks’ scouting divisions and work with current player-development director Ryan Johnson to learn that side of the operation. Eventually, Rutherford said, he wants Johnson and Derek Clancey, the first AGM hired, to be free to support Allvin in the field “looking for players.” Castonguay’s focus is on contracts and the salary cap.

The hockey-ops group is rounded out by special advisors Henrik and Daniel Sedin and career Canuck Stan Smyl, Rutherford’s vice-president.

Rutherford is unconcerned about the relative lack of NHL managerial experience in his group.

“I'm very comfortable with it,” he said. “Whatever lack of experience they may have with their new roles, they're going to get it real quick. They're all smart, they've all been involved in the game. And we have enough people here that crossover to help each other.

“My role is to mentor these people. That's what we set out to do, that was part of me coming here.”

It took Rutherford two months from his hiring by owner Francesco Aquilini to remake Canucks hockey operations. The 72-year-old sounded almost giddy when he described the first full meeting by his new management team (minus Granato) on Tuesday.

The group met for six hours in Canucks offices – plus a break to watch the team skate inside Rogers Arena – to share ideas, discussing and discarding some, refining others and working towards consensus. It’s the Canucks collective.

“Everybody threw out their ideas and talked about our team and about players on other teams,” Rutherford said. “The debates went back and forth. I was really, really pleased with how the group worked together and were able to have different opinions and talk through it.”

Rutherford said he mostly sat and listened, probably with a smile. The pooling of ideas and discourse is exactly what he envisioned.

Granato understands there may be skeptics about this model and her own inexperience, although she knows the league intimately having pro-scouted for the Kraken while watching the Canucks more than any other team over the last two seasons.

“Listen, I've been hearing this my whole life,” she said. “I have been hearing that I can't do something my whole life, and I feel like if you listen, you're going to get caught up in that. I do know this market and how intense it can be, and at some point -- if it's not already out there -- there will be negative things said. But I can't control that, and I'm not going to let that bother me. Again, it's something I'm used to.”

It hasn’t stopped her yet.

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