Cammi Granato, the respected captain of the U.S. women's hockey team at two Olympics, has selected Canada over Europe in her moment of need.
The silver medalist at Salt Lake City and long-time scoring star in world tournaments will skate for the Vancouver Griffins next season in the National Women's Hockey League.
Granato, 31, chose the Griffins, based in suburban New Westminster, because there's no U.S. domestic league for women once they complete university. The winger didn't see Europe as an alternative, unlike Canadian star Haley Wickenheiser, who may play in a German men's league.
Karen Bye and Granato, mainstays of the American national team for years, both considered retirement after losing the gold medal to Canada at Salt Lake in February.
"I just realized I wasn't ready to give it up," Granato said yesterday at a news conference. "This is a great opportunity for me to stay competitive."
The Vancouver team is owned and operated by Diane Nelson, an elementary school principal, and coached by Nancy Wilson, who played against Granato many times. Granato was approached by Griffins president Phil DeGrandpre about living in Vancouver for a season.
The Griffins were an expansion team in the Western Division last season and attracted Nancy Drolet from the Canadian national program, although she was unceremoniously dumped by the Olympic coaching staff this year.
Granato has played against NWHL opposition because the American nationals were based at Lake Placid, N.Y., for two years and came north often for exhibition games. She also lived in Montreal in the early 1990s when she was a postgradudate student and player at Concordia University.
"I enjoy the game too much, I'm still having fun and feel I can still contribute," Granato said. "There's just nowhere to play back home.
"I've lived in the West before and I just like the area. It has a lot to offer. There's no multimillion-dollar deals in women's hockey. Even the professional status isn't there yet."
Granato, from Downers Grove, Ill., will periodically travel home to complete her commitments to personal sponsors who have supported her career.
She would like to compete in a third Olympics -- the Americans won the first gold in women's hockey in 1998 at Nagano by upsetting Canada -- health permitting.
"I'm not a spring chicken any more," she said. "If my body can hold up, I think, mentally, I want to be there. I still really love being on the ice."
Granato could always turn to resuming her media career. She served as a colour commentator on the Los Angeles Kings' radio network after the Nagano Games when her name was a hot marketing commodity.
"It was a wonderful experience and a big challenge," Granato noted. "It's a little different analyzing the game than playing the game. It took me a while to get comfortable, but I enjoyed it.
"You start to pick apart why teams aren't successful and why they are. When you're on the ice, you kind of take that with you. It was good to watch all those games. I really learned a lot."
She also had to comment occasionally on the play of her brother, Tony, a member of the San Jose Sharks at the time. Now retired, Tony did some work for ESPN Radio this spring.
Granato comes from a hockey-playing family, with four brothers and a father who still plays in old-timers leagues in Illinois. Don, another of Cammi's brothers, coaches the Worcester Icecats of the American Hockey League.
"It's a big hockey family and kind of a bond we have," she said, adding that falling short of her goals at the Olympics motivated her to continue playing.
Little did she know that her incredible hockey journey would continue with Vancouver as a destination.
"Up in Canada, for women postcollege, that's where it's at," she said. "Hopefully, this league can grow even more and add more awareness to the game."