It’s no surprise that family is at the heart of Cammi Granato’s latest passion project.
Growing up as one of six siblings in suburban Chicago, the Hockey Hall of Famer’s journey to a life in the sport was sparked by a desire to follow her older brothers onto the rink, after her parents initially tried to point her toward figure skating.
In the late 70s and early 80s, girls in her region simply didn’t play hockey. But Cammi found a way.
Her new children’s book, I Can Play Too, is based on that story. And while there are more opportunities for girls and women to be part of the hockey world today, Granato believes it’s still an important story to tell.
“In my mind, I was thinking ‘Aren’t we past I Can Play Too?’” she said. “But then I realized we’re not. We’re still fighting for space in sport, and in anything, really.”
When her two sons were younger, reading time was a nightly ritual.
“We didn’t miss a night,” she said. “That was our thing.
“Riley, my older boy was very interested. When he was, like, three — every sport book was what he loved. I have loved seeing all the scenes of the sports.
“I realized there wasn’t a lot of female representation and I was like, ‘If they’re reading a bunch of books, I would love to write a children’s book about a little girl, based on my stories.’”
The main character in the book is named Mimi — a tribute to Cammi’s maternal aunt, who passed away suddenly at age 15 from cardiac arrest.
“I’m named after her,” Granato explained. “My middle name is Michelle, and we combined my first name, Catherine, and Michelle to be Cammi. My parents actually wanted to call me Mimi. But they were afraid it would be too sensitive for my grandma, because it was such a big loss for the family.”
Mimi, the character, has been brought to life by Cammi’s nephew, Dom Granato, who created the illustrations in I Can Play Too. The son of former NHL player Tony Granato, who played 774 NHL games from 1988 to 2001 and is currently the head coach at the University of Michigan, Dom and his sister Bailey helped brainstorm the origins of the book during a hike with Cammi near her North Vancouver home, three and a half years ago.
Cammi’s life story has had literary agents knocking at her door for years, wanting her to write a memoir. After all, she served as captain for Team USA at the first-ever Olympic women’s hockey tournament in 1998, winning a gold medal. Four years later, she lit the Olympic torch in Salt Lake City.
In 2010, Granato and Angela James became the first women inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. In 2019, she became the NHL’s first full-time female pro scout, with the expansion Seattle Kraken. And just this week, she signed on as assistant general manager with the Vancouver Canucks — joining a revamped front office that already includes another female assistant GM, former player agent Emilie Castonguay.
When the agents brushed off the idea of a children’s book, Cammi decided to forge ahead independently.
The book started to come together during a family camping trip.
“I pretty much wrote the whole story in one sitting,” she said. “After that, it gets edited and altered and cut down. From that point on, it was just more about the process of matching the illustrations and finding someone to help us design the book.”
The PR team at the Seattle Kraken helped oversee last week’s book launch, hosting a pair of events where Cammi and Dom could sign copies and talk with young readers.
“(Dom and I) got to do it together, which was so much fun,” she said. “We didn’t really think about the product being out there; we just thought about the process. So when we were in the gift shop and someone bought the first book, we’re, like, fist-bumping each other.
“Then, this little boy was reading it while he was waiting in line. We just didn’t think about the idea of someone reading it and what that would look like, so that was really cool.”
As for the distribution, it’s truly a hands-on process. Yes, that’s the family garage.
By self-publishing, Granato also gets to direct a share of the proceeds to cause that’s very meaningful to her.
Craig Cunningham is a close family friend, who grew up with Granato’s stepson, Landon Ferraro. “Craig used to stay with us in the summers, when the boys would train,” she said. “I’ve known him since he was just a little kid, 11 or 12.”
In 2016, while playing for the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners, Cunningham suffered a near-fatal cardiac event on the ice during a game. It was similar to the episode that he had struck down Aunt Mimi, but thanks to a series of fortunate coincidences, he was able to quickly get the life-saving help that he needed.
Upon recovery, Cunningham helped launch the All Heart Foundation, which focuses on building awareness and developing detection tools focused on prevention.
“When he went through what he went through, it rocked all of us,” Granato said. “We’re still close with him, so I’m really happy that I get to donate to the foundation, because what he’s doing is about prevention and awareness. His foundation of him is about making people aware that you can test for this and to be aware, so it does not happen like it did to Craig. ”
I Can Play Too is now available for purchase online. Rollout to bookstores is underway.