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It's chilly at the edge of the hockey rink, especially if one is wearing a skirt and panty hose, as Cammi Granato is. But she isn't shivering. "I didn't sleep last night," she says, her eyes fixed on the ice at Providence College's Schneider Arena. Was it the eight large pizzas she and her Lady Friar teammates wolfed down at her apartment while watching Slap Shot before their 11 p.m. pregame curfew? Or was it the savage cross-checking featured in the film? Neither, it turns out. "I was just visualizing..." she says, her voice trailing off.
Granato scans the empty ice and imagines herself threading through crimson-jerseyed defenders. She sees herself making a perfect pass to her left wing or firing a bullet on the fly straight into the net.
Several hours later, Harvard, the Lady Friars' first opponent of the season, is chastened 6-0 before the 150 spectators who have shrugged off Sunday-morning sloth and a cold rain to come to the game. Granato gets two goals and an assist and performs a one-revolution spread-eagle spin after a head-on collision with a Harvard player. All of which she shrugs off. And after the game, Granato, 21, the senior center for the defending collegiate champions and the best female hockey player in the U.S., continues her visualizing. In her mind she substitutes the green jerseys of Dartmouth, the Lady Friars' next opponent, for the crimson ones.
Don and Natalie Granato's first daughter, Christina, somehow evaded hockey and found her athletic outlet as a cheerleader for the Chicago Bears' 1986 Super Bowl championship team. But the hockey bug bit Cammi, whose full name is Catherine Michelle, as hard as it did any of her four brothers. When Cammi was four, Natalie signed her up for figure skating classes at a studio adjacent to a hockey rink near the Granato home in Broadview, Ill. "I bought her the whole skating outfit—a little skirt and little pom-poms for her skates," says Natalie. "As soon as I turned my back during that first lesson, she walked right off the ice and through the door to watch a hockey game."
Was it any surprise? Back in the early '60s Don had courted Natalie by taking her to Chicago Blackhawk games. Later the Hawks became a pacifier of sorts for the Granatos' energetic first child, Tony, who was destined to tear through the local hockey-club system and star at Wisconsin and on the '88 U.S. Olympic team before joining the New York Rangers and then Wayne Gretzky's line on the L.A. Kings. Two other sons, Don and Rob, would follow Tony onto the ice at Wisconsin.
At the Granato house, hockey was inescapable: Christmas was a Blackhawk paraphernalia swap; family vacation was a hockey camp in Toronto or Colorado Springs; school papers were essays on hockey, short stories on hockey, book reports on hockey; treasure was an autographed kneepad from Blackhawk star Keith Magnuson; recreation was hockey in the Granatos' makeshift backyard rink or full-contact soccer or, later, hockey in the basement of the family's Downers Grove, Ill., home. "We were always looking for little brothers or sisters to play goal," says Tony, "so Cammi was playing whether she liked it or not."
Cammi Granato played organized hockey as a forward for the Downers Grove Huskies from kindergarten through her junior year in high school. She wore 21, Tony's number. Often she was the only girl and the youngest player on the ice. Often an opposing team's toughs threatened to break her shoulders, "to warn me that I wasn't good enough to play with them," she says. Always she proved them wrong, if not with bruising checks, then with a handful of goals and several brilliant passes. "If you were a spectator, you would never have guessed there was a girl out there," says Cammi's cousin Bob Granato, who played on her team when they were both teenagers. "Of course, you might have wondered who the guy with the long hair was."
"I have a feeling that if I hadn't been as successful at putting the puck away, the guys might not have been so crazy about having me as a teammate," she says now. "You had to take that extra step to be accepted."
Although she has been a U.S. star in two world championships (in 1990 and '92), received the Bob Johnson medallion (presented to the top four U.S. players, male or female, in international competition) in 1992 and two Eastern College Athletic Conference Player of the Year awards and she is generally held in awe by the female hockey-playing world, Granato continues to take that extra step. "Cammi's the first one on the ice, the last one off,"' says her Providence teammate Wendy Cofran, who plays wing. "She's always willing to help with little things and is very down-to-earth. I love playing with her."
"There are other players with great skills," says Providence coach John Marchetti. "Others may skate faster or shoot the puck better. But it all comes together for Cammi. Success follows her wherever she goes. But you reap what you sow," he adds. "She has such a work ethic."