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Hall of Famer Cammi Granato blazes another trail, this time as a scout with the Kraken

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 27, 2021

Brandon Tanev, right, a forward from the Pittsburgh Penguins, talks with Seattle Kraken scout Cammi Granato after he was introduced as a player for the Kraken, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, during the Kraken's NHL hockey expansion draft event in Seattle.  (Associated Press)
Brandon Tanev, right, a forward from the Pittsburgh Penguins, talks with Seattle Kraken scout Cammi Granato after he was introduced as a player for the Kraken, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, during the Kraken's NHL hockey expansion draft event in Seattle. (Associated Press)
By Marisa Ingemi Seattle Times

History follows Cammi Granato.

Being part of the Kraken’s inaugural season is just one item on her list of firsts.

Granato, the first woman hired as an NHL scout, has been a builder of this first Kraken team. From the time she was hired in 2019, she has been a leader in the effort to fill the roster.

Now she has begun the next phase of her job; scouting the rest of the league and maintaining the Kraken’s building effort.

Just a couple years ago, Granato didn’t know that door was open for her.

“I thought about working with an NHL team, (but) I hadn’t really thought about the capacity of what that would look like,” she said. “I didn’t realize it was doable for me to be a scout, because … I thought I might have to be all over the country, it wouldn’t be as easy as it was laid out. But it was allowed for me to still be at home and do my job, and that’s why it was perfect.”

Granato, who is Team USA’s all-time leading scorer with 343 points, had been offered NHL jobs, but nothing fit what she was seeking. She had broadcasting and other team options but didn’t want a position that took her far from her two children, especially while her husband, hockey broadcaster Ray Ferraro, travels.

Then she got a call from Kraken general manager Ron Francis.

“This was the first time I’d been offered that job,” said Granato, who relocated to Seattle from Vancouver, British Columbia, for the job. “None of it had ever been for scouting, so this was the first time I thought about it, and was really excited for the opportunity.”

Francis was allured by her experience in hockey, from her playing days to coaching and as an analyst. He had a big job ahead of him, to build a scouting staff, and having knowledgeable hockey minds was his top priority.

Throw in the COVID-19 pandemic, which essentially stopped live in-game scouting for a year, and building the department became even more challenging. Francis knew Granato would be essential in creating a scouting department that could carry the Kraken to its first season.

“With her history, the success she’s had as a player, her family, her brothers are coaches, husband played in the league, hockey is a big part of her world,” Francis said. “I thought she would be really knowledgeable, so we reached out to her, and fortunately she was excited about coming on board.”

Being the first anything isn’t intimidating for Granato. She was the first captain of the first USA women’s national team that won gold at the 1998 Olympics, she was among the first group of women inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and now she is part of the first NHL franchise in Seattle.

It hadn’t struck her that whatever the moment is in hockey, it seems to be preceded by her.

“I never thought about the actual first of this, but it seems like the pioneer thing; it was brought up after we won the ’98 Games, and I didn’t really understand it,” she said. “Now that I’m older I’m like, ‘Yeah, I understand the firsts.’ I feel really fortunate that I work here, because there were people before me who were qualified and never got the chance. I feel like I’m lucky that I’m here at the right time.”

Granato’s brother, Buffalo Sabres coach Don Granato, wasn’t surprised to see her land a role with an NHL team. When he was coaching the Wisconsin Capitols of the USHL in the 1990s, Cammi was an unofficial assistant, and her eye for talent stood out.

“She was great with the players,” he said. “She lived it, she had the bumps and bruises and injuries and pressures and everything, so it’s neat to see her do this. She has the experience that she’s gained being around the game.”

Don said there was one year, her junior year of high school, when Cammi didn’t play hockey while she played other sports like soccer, basketball, and baseball.

What never waned, no matter the spot, was her competitive nature.

“From the first time she played her first game of anything, anything in the backyard or basement, you could see she was a good athlete and she didn’t like to lose,” Don said. “She had that combination really, really early. From as early as I can recall, it mattered to her and she wanted to win. It didn’t matter that I was four years older, my younger brother two years older than her, Tony (Granato) is seven years older. She would not be discouraged.”

That trait was essential in the past year, when she didn’t have the full NHL scouting experience available to her.

Her first time attending an NHL game as a Kraken member was the final preseason game in Vancouver on Oct. 5, a moment she could finally reflect on the work she had done.

“These are the players right in front of you that you looked at, and you want to see how it all fits together,” she said. “It was really cool to watch, because we know all the work that went into it, we knew how the selections went, so we got to just see them play. I look forward to more of those.”

There weren’t a ton of rewarding moments like that during the pandemic. The entire organization had to adjust on the fly to the ever-changing landscape and NHL restrictions and protocols.

Granato was, to Francis, the perfect person to help lead that effort.

“She’s hardworking, she’s very diligent in her approach,” he said. “Early on, she was asking a lot of questions, wanting to make sure she was doing things right and wanted to make sure she was learning in the process as well, and you can see her getting better and better the last couple of years.”

That strain impacted the scouting timeline, and the Kraken still had a team to assemble. Even with a large analytics team and a savvy front office, the Kraken had to develop its on-ice product without live access to players.

“We weren’t able to travel, we weren’t able to get into the (2020 playoff) bubble, we had to do a lot of our work on TV and video,” Francis said. “We hired probably a bigger-than-normal staff because of that, so we had people in markets of NHL teams to get coverage when home rinks opened up.”

It has made the first few games, for Granato, more gratifying. It’s an accumulation of her work the past two years, and a representation of her skill as one of the sport’s brightest minds.

She said it’s a group effort when scouting — every scout has assigned teams, and they confer with each other before sending reports to the front office — and making decisions.

“She has such a feel for things,” Don Granato said. “She’s gone through these experiences, so she can get into the moment. She knows what something might feel like for a player and in what situation and make an evaluation. That’s the experience you want. … It ties in nicely with what she’s doing, that’s what it takes in our industry.”

Cammi Granato has found herself in the middle of hockey history again with the Kraken. Yet it’s still just one of many moments she seems to always find.

“I’m not thinking about it constantly. It’s underlying that you know you have to do a really job good, because you have to represent, but I don’t feel that pressure,” she said. “I take it seriously in that aspect of, as a woman you want to make sure you do well. I do think being the first again, being a part of this organization that is so much fun, I am just so happy about all of it.”

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