Over the past three seasons, it’s safe to say that no one on the Vancouver Canucks’ management team has watched more Canucks games than Cammi Granato.
As a scout for the Seattle Kraken based in Vancouver, Granato was a regular in the Rogers Arena pressbox, watching games with a practiced, analytical eye and writing a seemingly endless number of scouting reports. That experience as a scout was an important stepping stone.
“Immersing myself in learning the league, learning the players, building a database for Seattle, watching games over and over, writing thousands of reports, sitting in on scouting meetings, sitting in with the management team, listening, watching, learning — all of that prepped me to walk into this role,” said Granato at her first press conference with the Canucks on Thursday.
The fact that she’s so familiar with the players on the Canucks doesn’t hurt either, particularly as the team heads into the trade deadline with an eye towards creating cap space and beginning to reshape the roster into a Cup contender.
"I've always had a team-first mentality."
Granato’s specific portfolio as assistant general manager will be overseeing player development and both amateur and pro scouting. It’s a big role and something that needs a lot of attention given the Canucks’ struggles in player development. The Canucks have drafted some excellent talent in recent years that has been able to jump directly to the NHL but haven’t been able to develop players within their system, with few graduates from their AHL team.
For Granato, her hockey knowledge is a given — she’s one of the greatest players of all time and in the Hockey Hall of Fame for a reason, and she’s spent the time scouting to know the specific ins and outs of the NHL. What sets her apart, and will be her greatest asset in a management role, is her leadership ability.
As an assistant GM, it won’t be enough to just know the players and have input on hockey decisions — though that’s certainly important. She’ll need to manage the Canucks’ contingent of scouts and oversee a player development team that likely needs to grow. For that, leadership and interpersonal skills will be key.
Fortunately, Granato has that in spades.
“Cammi is a tremendous leader and has earned the respect of the hockey world,” said Rutherford.
Granato was captain of Team USA for nearly a decade, leading them to the first-ever gold medal in women’s hockey at the 1998 Olympics. It was there she honed her leadership abilities and leadership style.
“I've always had a team-first mentality,” said Granato. “I've always prided myself on personal skills, having good relationships with my teammates. I think I'm pretty good at analyzing people and what their needs are.”
“I wasn’t one that would go and have a long speech in a locker room before the game,” she added. “It was more my personal relationships with my individual teammates and them knowing that I had their backs. So, I’ll draw on that experience.”
It’s an attribute that even Granato’s opponents on Team Canada could respect.
“Especially later on in my career as I realized how influential she was to our sport, to hockey in the United States,” said Jayna Hefford. “She was such a leader and you could tell she was so respected within her own group. And then it extended to players like myself and others who didn’t know her on a personal level, but could see the leadership she brought.”
Granato also has the educational background to back up her experience. After graduating from Providence College with a degree in social science, she went to Concordia University and earned her master's degree in sports administration while leading Concordia to three-straight provincial championships on the ice.
That team-first mentality that Granato mentioned is also one of the main reasons why she was so excited to take the job as assistant GM when it was offered by Rutherford. His vision for the team fed right into Granato’s leadership philosophy.
“It's the idea of collaboration,” said Granato. “I'm a team player, I grew up in a team environment right from the start and that was one of the first things Jim talked about was how collaborative we'll all be, how all voices will be heard…And I really love that idea, that we can all work together — just on a flat level together and share our ideas.
“That's really, really exciting and I think a super healthy way to run a team.”
"It was other people that defined me as a girl trying to play a man's game."
The hiring of Granato and, before her, Émilie Castonguay shows that Rutherford’s claim to want a diverse group of voices for the Canucks’ hockey operations department wasn’t just talk. There have been just three women ever hired as assistant GMs in the NHL and two of them are with the Canucks right now.
Both Granato and Castonguay come from very different backgrounds. Granato’s experience comes primarily as a player, then into broadcasting and scouting. In many ways, it’s a very traditional way of getting into an NHL hockey operations job.
“I'm a hockey player. I always defined myself as a hockey player growing up, it was other people that defined me as a girl trying to play a man's game,” said Granato. “I'm used to that sort of view but, for me, that's not how I identify myself. Hockey's been a part of my life since I was — I was pretty much born into it.”
Castonguay, on the other hand, played four years in the NCAA, then retired, knowing her future in hockey lay off the ice. She came at the game from a completely different direction, getting her law degree and becoming the first-ever woman to become an NHLPA certified player agent.
While some might want to lump Granato and Castonguay together because of their gender, their own unique backgrounds will bring a diversity of opinion.
“It's a really big day to have two women in management on one team,” said Granato. “It just goes to show Jim's vision to diversify, get different voices, get different people's experience, and draw them together.
“So, I think it's something to celebrate, looking at two women on a management team, it really is but on the other hand, maybe this conversation will change in 10 years, it won't be a big deal, or five years, it won't be a big deal, when other teams do the same and follow suit.”