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Sophomore Stephanie O'Sullivan, who is Granato's linemate and the heir apparent to her role as the Lady Friars' franchise player, compares her to Mario Lemieux. "Cammi has that same long reach," O'Sullivan says. "She always manages to find a way to get a puck in."
Granato, 5'1", 140 pounds and quick, applied her awareness and athletic talent to a number of sports at Downers Grove North High School. Division ITT basketball programs sent her recruiting letters; Wisconsin wanted her to play soccer; in 1989 and '90 she won silver and gold medals in team handball at the Olympic Festivals; and who knows which collegiate tennis coach would have been breathing down her neck had Don and Natalie followed the advice of Cammi's high school tennis coach and shipped her off to Nick Bolletieri's camp in Florida when she was 14 years old.
But Granato's enduring love is ice hockey, a sport that 15,000 American girls and women play in virtual obscurity. Even at Providence, which, along with New Hampshire and Northeastern, is a hotbed of the women's collegiate sport, game accounts are often buried in the paragraphs just above the Punt, Pass and Kick news in the local paper.
Fortunately for Granato, every sport has its grapevine. The Lady Friars, one of three programs that offered scholarships to women in 1989 (none does at the moment), heard about her performance in a tournament in Ontario in 1988 and offered her a grant-in-aid the next year, sight unseen. "It was a gamble, but a small one," says Marchetti. "Our sources told us she stood out among some of the best players in the nation."
Last year Granato set school single-season scoring records for goals (48) and points (80) as the Lady Friars skated to a 22-2-1 record and the ECAC title, which is, in effect, the national championship. When Granato got her 20th goal of the season, on Jan. 27, she became the Lady Friars' alltime leader in goals scored, with 114. But she is by no means a one-woman show. She is surrounded by a cast of powerful finesse players, including O'Sullivan, last year's ECAC rookie of the year, and ECAC all-star defensemen Vicki Movsessian and Chris Bailey.
Like Granato, many of the Lady Friars grew up checking on boys' teams and have a certain familiarity with the boards. But U.S. collegiate rules prohibit checking in women's hockey. ("You can't exactly lay anyone out against the boards," says Cofran, "but a lot of the same stuff goes on. You just have to be more sly.") So while the women's game lacks most of the bone-crunching collisions and some of the speed of the men's game, it places more emphasis on playmaking, puck-handling and overall finesse. And the competition is as fierce as it gets in any league.
Granato is well aware that a second consecutive ECAC championship (the, final four is Feb. 27-28 at Northeastern in Boston) will be no cakewalk. "When you're on top, everybody's more anxious to knock you off," she says. But even if the Lady Friars come up short this season, Granato will have many gratifying memories from the last four years. She has seen the crowds at Lady Friar games increase from dozens to scores. She has witnessed, as a member of two silver medal world championship teams, the enthusiasm that women's hockey can generate.
And when women's ice hockey debuts as a full medal Olympic sport in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, Granato intends to be on the ice. Although the avenues for staying competitive between graduation in June of '93 and the Winter Games of '98 are limited—she could play in a European or Canadian league or become an assistant coach with a college hockey team—she sees herself on the U.S. team. "I was at the Olympics in Calgary when Tony played," she says. "I just try to remember what that was like, and that will keep me going. I'll be there, because I can visualize myself there."