Heeding godmother's advice: Granato watches his aunt, Cammi, go into Hockey Hall of Fame

Posted: Friday, November 19, 2010

The godmother shared her story. The godson shared his attention.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Kenai River Brown Bears left wing Dominic Granato comes from a family of hockey players.

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Dominic Granato was all ears when he traveled to Toronto for three days last week to watch his godmother, Cammi Granato, become one of two women to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

From games of ministick hockey against three older brothers in an Illinois garage, to climbing the ranks as a woman in a predominantly male sport, to winning an Olympic gold medal, Cammi Granato traced her journey to the Hockey Hall of Fame during an acceptance speech Nov. 8.

"She had me crying a little bit," Dominic Granato said of his aunt's speech, in which she emphasized the importance of hard work and dedication, shared stories about the struggles of being a female hockey player and thanked those who supported her along the way. "She was modest, yet appreciative."

More than 20 family members were on-hand as the former captain of the 1998 U.S. women's gold medal hockey team received the ultimate accolade in a sport played predominantly by men.

It was a crowning moment not only for Cammi Granato, but also for her proud nephew, who will be on the ice when the Bears (11-10-2) return to the Soldotna Sports Center this weekend for a pivotal two-game homestand against the first-place Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild.

The squads, separated by two points in the North American Hockey League West Division standings, square off at 7:30 p.m. today and at the same time Saturday.

"It's a big weekend for us," Dominic Granato said, alluding to a close playoff race. "There's no telling who will be in and who will be out."

Don't blame the first-year player if he's excited to suit up in front of a home crowd.

Dominic Granato, 19, has spent much of his life on the move.

Last week he missed two practices to celebrate his aunt's achievement, flying from Anchorage to Seattle to Chicago to Toronto, and back, with five layovers along the way.

He wouldn't have missed his godmother's crowning achievement for anything.

"I'm very proud to be his godmother," Cammi said. "It's a special relationship. We can just hang out and talk for hours."

Dominic is the son of Pittsburgh Penguins assistant and former Colorado Avalanche head coach Tony Granato and spent his younger years going where hockey took his father. From Los Angeles to San Jose, Calif., to Denver, the sport was a constant as the landscape around Dominic changed.

Although he admitted moving presented challenges, Dominic said support from his siblings, parents and Cammi helped along the way.

"We're all pretty close and stay in touch," he said.

Dominic had yet to celebrate his 10th birthday when his aunt led the U.S. women's hockey team to a gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics, but the magnitude of her accomplishments becomes more relevant to him each day.

Cammi earned a silver medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics. She also was named the USA Hockey Women's Player of the Year in 1996.

"I was too young to appreciate it when she was in her prime," he said. "But it's pretty crazy."

The aunt and nephew discuss hockey, Dominic said, but rarely do the conversations include strategy or technique. Cammi's message to her nephew, instead, is to have a passion for the sport and to always remain dedicated.

"She mainly tells me to have a good attitude," Dominic said, "and to persevere."

Tony Granato has learned similar lessons from his sister. He, too, chooses to avoid extensive hockey discussions with Dominic. The former NHL player prefers other topics.

"For the most part, we talk about the other stuff -- what's going on in life," said Tony, in his second season as an assistant coach with the Penguins. "There are other things in life than hockey, so I try not to get as involved, not as much as you would expect. There's not a whole lot of coaching or instruction.

"As a parent, I just want to make sure he enjoys what he's doing."

By all accounts, Dominic is making the best of his time on the peninsula.

The transition has been smooth for the left-winger, who graduated from Denver's Cherry Creek High School in 2009.

He and teammate Ryan Walker live with avid Bears supporters Dave and Cindy Fusaro, the parents of former Kenai River captain Brad Fusaro. The Fusaros help the club with game-day operations and understand the rigors of hockey, Dominic said, making it a natural fit.

Kenai River Brown Bears coach Oliver David said Dominic has fulfilled expectations thus far.

"I instantly knew Dominic was going to be the type of player we wanted to represent our organization," said Kenai River coach Oliver David, who began recruiting the newcomer in May. "His overall contributions to our club extend far beyond statistics."

David called the forward an "extremely smart player" with and away from the puck, someone who listens and is unselfish. He has three goals and two assists through 23 games.

At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, David said Dominic is neither the fastest player nor best finisher. Instead, he contributes in other ways.

"He very rarely will put himself in position to jeopardize the team," David said. "He's the ultimate team player. There really aren't very many players at any level who are as unselfish as he is."

In the Bears' 5-3 home-opening victory against the Fresno (Calif.) Monsters in October, Dominic was named co-player of the game for his efforts in the third period.

David said he and Shane Topf preserved the win by blocking shots and beginning every penalty kill, sometimes staying on the ice for more than two minutes.

It's that type of effort that has the Bears two points out of first place and enjoying their most successful season in franchise history, a turnaround of which Dominic is proud.

Kenai would bolster its playoff chances with at least one victory this weekend.

No matter the outcome, Dominic is happy to be on the ice.

"It's been a lot of fun," he said. "Hopefully, I'll be back here next season."

Inside the crease: The Wild has defeated Kenai twice this season in the teams' only two matchups, winning 4-1 and 5-4 on consecutive nights in September. ... Wenatchee (13-9-0) enters the series on a season-long, three-game losing streak, having lost four of its past five games to drop into a three-way tie with the Alaska Avalanche of Palmer (13-10-0) and Fairbanks Ice Dogs (12-7-2) for the top spot in the West. ... The Bears made no roster moves this week. ... The featured players this weekend are Alaska natives Josh Benton and Raymond Stenehjem, meaning they will be available for autographs. ... Pre-sale tickets are available for $10, instead of $12 at the door, at the Duck Inn in Soldotna and Lucky Puck Bingo in Kenai.

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