She’s used to being out front of trends. Cammi Granato was playing hockey with boys when she was a teenager back in the 1980s, because that’s where the good competition was. She was a member of the US Women’s National team which went to the first IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in 1990. She was the Captain who led the US women to their first Olympic Gold in 1998. She played four years of US college hockey at Providence College and reprised that with two years’ more at Concordia University in Canada. She entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010. Granato has done much of what can be done in hockey. And she’s nowhere near finished yet.
“Pioneer” is a word that’s tempting to use in describing her ground-breaking career, and now she’s done it again, being hired recently as a pro scout for the new Seattle expansion NHL team (no, she doesn’t know the name of the team yet; I asked). This is a first for a woman, but it’s not why she took the job, nor what she’s focused on, as I found out when interviewing her late this week.
She offered this perspective: “I get the magnitude of it. I understand the responsibility that comes with it, the breaking barriers, being a trailblazer. But my whole life, I have been hearing the same thing about I’m trying to play a men’s sport, and I don’t belong, or all the naysayers. It’s nothing that any woman who has been in this position isn’t used to, and I’m used to it, but I’m not identifying myself any differently than the other scouts.”
The organization as a whole, she points out, is quite contemporary in its thinking. “In particular with Seattle, the hires have been very diverse. I think there are 60 employees, but 49% are women. If you look at Alexandra Mandrycky [Director of Hockey Administration], she’s a powerhouse, and she’s at the top. People are reporting to her. The team’s view is very new age, and it’s about hiring the right people, and not worrying about gender or ethnic background. It’s refreshing. I think that’s the beauty of starting at the ground level, it’s starting from zero, and the hires are unique that way.”
Here’s a fine summation of the point: “Other people can define it [as pioneering], but I don’t see it, from a personal standpoint.” She just wants to get busy doing hockey-related things.
When the six scouts, plus management of the team, meet, Granato says, “I’m going to give my opinion the same way as everyone else, or we’re going to talk it out as a group.” And she gives a hint as to the Club’s approach to using their scouting staff: “It’s very much about them wanting to know your opinion, and everyone respecting each other’s opinion. We don’t have to agree, but everyone will be allowed to have their own opinion. The group was hired because [management] values that.”
From her spot at the table, Granato’s opinions will be based in her long experience in the game. “Hockey is hockey. I’ve played it all my life. I’ve been around it all my life. I’ve watched it all my life. I’ve got brothers and my husband who have played at high levels, and I’ve coached at different levels. It’s second nature to me, and it’s very comfortable for me, [due to] the number of games I’ve seen or played in or been a part of.”
The immediate goal is clear, and natural, especially in the shadow of the super-successful Vegas expansion a couple of years ago. Cammi explains: “Right now, it’s identifying players first that are going to be eligible, projecting where they could be. Las Vegas had a great model. They had an identity that they wanted to fill. They had an idea of what the team was going to be, and I think they really fulfilled that. For us, it’s going to be interesting to see how everything unfolds. We’re getting to work pretty soon.”
The role Granato plays will revolve around observing Western Conference teams as they visit Vancouver, which is where she, her husband and former NHLer (now broadcaster) Ray Ferraro, and their two sons, Riley and Reese, make their home. Over the past decade or so, she has maintained a family-first attitude, staying close to home so that the kids, now 12 and nine, had stability in their upbringing, especially with Ferraro being away about four nights a week during the hockey season. That didn’t mean Cammi wasn’t involved in hockey. She did some broadcasting, coaching, working at hockey camps, and other things. Yet, “I was committed to being home with the kids and doing some [hockey] things around here but not getting into a full-time job and being gone so much.”
The scouting job keeps that commitment alive. “This job was the perfect fit for what I can do, as far as not having to travel. NHL scouting for me will be going down to the Canucks’ games, watching the Western Conference. I get to be part of a pretty incredible organization in Seattle. It’s exciting to be here as it grows.”
Granato feels ready for the task. “Playing at a high level, there’s a lot to learn from that—what it takes, the dedication, the work. I can draw from that, but for me it’s just natural. It’s just a natural fit. Hockey is in every part of my being. I watch hockey all the time, and I’m around it all the time. It’s in our everyday life. It’s woven into everything, so I experience it from every single aspect. I’ve been in NHL locker rooms as a broadcaster. I’ve been in the Olympics at the highest level for women’s hockey. I’ve had experience at every level, I’ve seen it at every single level, and I know what it’s about.
In terms of her career (Granato is a couple of years shy of 50), is this a starting point, or an end point, I wonder, so I ask where she’ll be in ten years. “I don’t know. I don’t have that vision yet of where it could go. This is my first experience with an NHL team in this capacity, and I’m not sure. I’m looking forward to getting into it, seeing how it all plays out.”
Fans and people in the game are watching to see that, too, and hoping for the best. Well, maybe everyone but those in Vegas. They don’t want to see the Seattle Whatever-they’ll-be-called better the Golden Knights’ first-year appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. If Seattle did have a deep playoff run, it would not be blazing a trail, however. A team representing the city won the Stanley Cup in 1917, as the Metropolitans. They were the first American squad to capture the prize.
We got chatting about analytics, and here’s Granato’s point of view, and a tiny forecast of the team’s view: “It’s depending on each organization how much analytics play a part. You see that in other sports too. Some teams are heavily reliant on analytical data. I’m not sure how it will play out in our scouting. It will be a part of it, but how much to take into consideration is yet to be known to me with Seattle because we haven’t really gotten into it yet. In some organizations, the analytics override some of the scouts, but it depends on the philosophy coming from the top. That will be interesting for sure, because what analytics see and what the human eye sees is still debated. I think there’s a place for both; It just depends on where you weigh in on it.”
We also talked about the heritage of the team, and Granato was particularly keen on how they are preserving the look of the Key Arena (formerly Seattle Center Coliseum) as they renovate it for hockey. “I know they’re not destroying the arena. They are keeping the original rooftop and digging down underneath, I think seventy feet, to build this arena. They’ve preserved the rooftop. They’re really trying to capture that history.”
Granato is one of the people featured in my book Living the Hockey Dream.