Cammi Granato was at the forefront of women's hockey when it shattered the Olympic ceiling in 1998, and says she has heard the term "pioneer" many times.
But being the first female player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, alongside former Canadian star Angela James, takes the former U.S. international to a shrine where the doors seemed permanently locked for women.
"That's the part that amazes me," Granato said this week. "We're being accepted into their club."
"Their club" was what five-year-old Granato dreamed of in suburban Chicago, idolizing Blackhawks and playing street games against her older brothers, including former NHL player and coach Tony. She competed and succeeded against boys into her midteens, when she decided not to play midget because of its emphasis on bodychecking.
Granato took her game to Providence College, averaged more than two points a game against her own gender, and captained the United States to a gold medal at the first Olympic women's tournament. She enters the hall having played in every world championship tournament from 1990 to 2005, and netting 96 points in 54 career international games.
There was one last opportunity to play against men before the '98 Games, when Granato was invited to New York Islanders training camp. She declined because at 5 foot 6 and 135 pounds, it would have been "crazy" for a male player to try the NHL, let alone a woman. But Granato praised then Islanders general manager Mike Milbury, saying he had a daughter who played and genuinely wanted to help advance the women's game.
"I knew I wasn't going to play for them," Granato said. "But he wanted to give a woman a chance and see how she stacked up."
Granato, 39, remains in hockey through charitable work, summer camps and broadcasting. She lives in Vancouver with husband Ray Ferraro, a former NHL player, and sons Riley, 3, and Reese, 11 months.
"You prove yourself your whole life in women's hockey, that's what it was like for our generation," she said. "So I'm really overwhelmed and honoured. It's not a place I ever thought I'd be. It's a place to go and see legends and idols."Report Typo/Error