Buccigross: Granato deserved better ending

Updated: August 30, 2005, 9:43 AM ET
By John Buccigross | Special to ESPN.com

First Period -- One Cam in, one Cam out

Who would have thought that in the same year Cam Neely was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame by a committee of 18, Cammi Granato would be voted out of USA Hockey by a committee of one?

Ben Smith, head coach of the U.S. women's national team, cut the face of women's hockey from the team last week in cold and merciless fashion.

"Like all players, if they choose to try to play forever, their number's liable to come up," Smith said last week during a conference call.

Past praise for Granato
"Man or woman, Cammi Granato is one of the most impressive hockey leaders I've ever come across."
-- Chris Chelios, Detroit Red Wings

"She's the kind of person, who's always been a giver and there is no one who handles pressure like Cammi Granato."
-- Chris Bailey, former Olympic teammate

"When you think women's hockey, you think Cammi Granato. She's one of the pioneers. The one who opened the doors. So many little girls wanted to be Cammi Granato."
-- Mike Eruzione, captain of 1980 Miracle on Ice team

When I spoke with Granato, she was obviously hurt and didn't want to say too much.

"I had a good camp. I felt like I was really going. Moving well, shooting well, and confident in me and our team," Granato said. "I was never told I was on a bubble to make the team."

If this decision stands, it means Cammi Granato will not be on the U.S. Olympic team and her international hockey career has come to an abrupt and unjust end.

"I'd like to think I have enough self-awareness to know when my time as a player is done," Granato said. "But if for some reason, unbeknownst to me, I couldn't see when the end was for me, I have a support group of high-level hockey people, family, teammates and friends, who give me honest assessments of my game all the time. They would tell me."

Granato's former U.S. national teammate, Sue Merz, summed up the events of the past week to me in one word over the phone Friday: "Disgusting."

"This says to me that women's hockey means nothing to USA Hockey," Merz said. "What kind of example does Ben Smith give to the younger girls on the team? If Cammi is treated this way, what does this mean for me in the future?"

Chris Bailey, who played with Granato on the gold-medal team in the 1998 Nagano Olympics, said, "The two biggest mistakes USA Hockey has ever made is not having a post-Olympic tour in 1998 and cutting Cammi Granato."

Imagine USA Soccer cutting Mia Hamm. Would they ever even think of doing that?

• Granato scored the first goal in U.S. women's Olympic history.

• In 2002, she carried the Olympic torch with Picabo Street and handed it to Mike Eruzione, who lit the flame with his 1980 teammates.

• In 1998, Granato not only carried the flag for the U.S. Olympic team at the closing ceremonies in Nagano but also led her team to the gold medal, totaling four goals and four assists in six games.

• After the Olympics, Granato was hired by the Los Angeles Kings as a radio color commentator, making her the only female broadcaster in the NHL and only the second in league history.

Can you imagine Team Canada treating Hayley Wickenheiser or Steve Yzerman this way?

Like Granato, Yzerman's best days are behind him. He's 40 years old, and his knees are a wreck. Is Yzerman among the top 12 Canadian-born forwards in the NHL right now? No way. But does he belong on the Canadian Olympic team? Absolutely. Why? Because he's Steve Yzerman!

If he thinks he'd be a liability to Team Canada, Stevie Y will call executive director Wayne Gretzky and say, "Wayne, I can't do it." The point is, Gretzky would let Yzerman make that decision.

Cammi Granato
Cammi Granato led the U.S. to its first World Championships gold medal earlier this year.

Granato didn't get that chance, and Team USA executive director David Ogrean sat by and let it happen.

The most treasured women's hockey player in U.S. history, the face of U.S. women's hockey, is allowed to be treated this way? What a pathetic example of leadership and what a dangerous way to treat the program.

I went to see the U.S. women's team play Canada in Burlington, Vt., last winter and watched the team practice in Lake Placid in March.

Was Granato among the top 10 forwards on the team? Yes, and it wasn't even close. When she is on the ice, you know something smart and creative is going to happen. But, even if it were close, you wouldn't do this to an icon, especially when this person represents the Olympics ideal; especially when that person is so selfless and classy, not to mention a marketer's dream.

As Bailey said, Granato is "the glue to the team."

It makes no sense on a player level, a marketing level or a team-building level.

Some of Granato's teammates claim Smith is a power-hungry coach, one who once said he couldn't work in the NHL because he couldn't coach players who make more money than he does.

The story at February's Winter Olympics in Turin would have been Granato's swan song, not Ben Smith. The story would have been the hockey player trying to go out on top like Ray Bourque in 2001 and Jean Beliveau in 1971.

When it comes to class and grace, Granato is in a class with Bourque and Beliveau. But Smith and others wanted her out. Bourque and Beliveau left the game of hockey in championship fashion because they were classy contributors. Granato deserved the same.

"[I feel] an overwhelming sadness. I'm not an angry person. I have a big, loving family and a roster full of former teammates that I love and respect," Granato said. "But I'm so heartbroken right now. I could never fathom this is how my hockey career would end.

"My only focus was the Olympics because in my sport, that is the ultimate. Everything is geared toward that, and my entire life was geared around getting there and winning gold."

Smith and Ogrean can never undo it. They can never undo such a classless, undignified decision. There isn't enough damage control possible to undo this one. They will perhaps retire her number, give her a day and send out a nice press release, but it won't be enough.

Smith should be fired, and Granato should be reinstated. Ogrean should go back to USA Football, and Eruzione should be brought in for some much-needed heart and soul.

I left a message for Ogrean, but have yet to hear back.

Usually, silence is golden. In this case, silence is guilt.

Second period -- Dany Heatley/Marian Hossa trade

I got a text message from a friend last week that simply said, "Now that's a trade!"

Dany Heatley
Heatley

Marian Hossa
Hossa

Heatley to Ottawa for Hossa and Greg de Vries is a monumental trade. It will be intriguing to gauge this trade.

Hossa is a rock. He has played at least 80 games the last four seasons. He's a power-play menace, and he'll be able to score 50 goals if the NHL doesn't let defensemen pin and hold forwards along the boards.

What makes this deal solid for the Thrashers is they get competent, veteran, defensive depth with de Vries. Heatley is a more complete player than Hossa and has bigger upside, but Hossa is more dependable. Right now, that's what Atlanta needs as it guns for the playoffs.

Heatley is a star. He has more assists than goals, which speaks to his vision. In 2002-03, Heatley had 19 power-play goals, which speaks to his shooting accuracy. Heatley has 100-point potential, and I think he will reach that number soon, maybe this season.

Ottawa needed a dynamic, creative force, and if he's healthy, Heatley provides that. Heatley and Jason Spezza give Ottawa two high hockey IQs that will keep it on top of the East for years to come.

Third period -- OLN

Most of the e-mails I received since last week have concerned the NHL moving to the Outdoor Life Network. What does it mean for the NHL, NHL 2Night and Barry Melrose?

First, there will be no NHL 2Night on ESPN2 this season.

Barry Melrose? He told the New York Post he would like to move on to OLN. Darren Pang has signed with the Coyotes, Brian Engblom with the Blue Jackets and Dave Strader with the Panthers. Bill Clement will find a home somewhere, whether it's in the studio or at the games. Ray Ferraro will call Oilers games … and sell 2006 Ken the Otter calendars door to door.

OLN hasn't announced any play-by-play teams or studio hosts, but with the season just five weeks away, I'm sure we'll be hearing news about the OLN hockey roster soon. Published reports have Mike Emerick and John Davidson as the top broadcast team.

I haven't seen whether there will be an NHL 2Night-type show on OLN, but I'm sure there will be at least some studio presence on game nights. Again, all of this will come out soon.

Is OLN a good move for the NHL? The bad news is that at least 25 million households won't get a chance to see Sidney Crosby begin his NHL career. That's a negative. ESPN2 is in about 25 million more homes than OLN. But Comcast is a broadcast powerhouse that will grow the number of homes it reaches by using its financial clout. Personally, I'm devastated by the news. Hockey is what gets my heart going more than any other sport, and I will miss covering it on ESPN. But the column will remain. And as I've said before, this is my favorite thing I do at ESPN.

The mailbag of all mailbags

Hey John,

After reading that you like to enjoy a late-night bowl of cereal while watching hockey (I do too), I was curious to know what kind of cereals you eat, and what kinds you think best represent each of the late-night West Coast teams this upcoming season.

Thanks,
Matt Monaghan

I try to stay away from sugar cereals as much as I can, but I am a sucker for an occasional Fruity Pebbles-Apple Jacks-anything-with-cinnamon treat.

You could sprinkle cinnamon on a lamppost and I would eat it. When I was a kid I loved Quisp. Do they still make that? These days, it's Wheaties, Raisin Bran, Life.

Some Western Conference teams and their cereal brethren:

Vancouver Canucks: They're a sugar cereal all the way. Always tasty and exciting. Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Anaheim Mighty Ducks: With Brian Burke in charge, the Ducks have gone from Total to Honey Nut Cheerios. HNC is an underrated cereal. I remember it came out while I was attending Heidelberg College in Ohio, and the first day it was available I sat down in the cafeteria and filled five separate bowls and ate them in one sitting.

Phoenix Coyotes: Frosted Mini-Wheats. Could be sweet, could be stringy and plain. I have no idea at this point.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are glitzy, exciting and vocal. They have the two best quotes in the NHL in Jeremy Roenick and Sean Avery. They are Fruity Pebbles all the way.

San Jose Sharks: Raisin Bran. Raisin Bran is another underrated cereal. Raisins rock, and coupled with milk-soaked-bran, are very satisfying.

Calgary Flames: With the Sutter brother at the helm? Grape Nuts central.

Edmonton Oilers: Fast and smooth. Milk-soaked Kix goes down like a flying Hemsky.

Hi John:

I am a Canadian and I enjoy the column. And I agree with you -- the hockey "culture" is very close-minded and ignorant. I deal with it every time I talk to my friends about fighting. They think it is an "essential" part of the game that prevents worse from happening. This couldn't be further from the truth. I think the presence of fighting encourages ALL other forms of violence. In my opinion, fighting needs to be eliminated from hockey for hockey's sake!

Thanks for the forum,
Rene

John, I'm sure I may start a riot if you post this e-mail, but I've looked thru a lot of stats and I strongly believe that Mario Lemieux is/was a better player than Wayne Gretzky.

Lemieux is my savior,
Kevin
Buffalo, N.Y.

Certainly considering his hands, height and the conference he played in, one wouldn't be out of line to make that Mario argument. But Wayne was clearly the best passer who has ever played NHL hockey and had an insatiable appetite to score. Mario smoked and had a potbelly when he entered the NHL and never quite had that insatiable drive to be a world-class athlete.

If Mario worked out then as he does now, he might have had a stronger back, fewer injuries and an even better career. But to quibble about Mario's career and life is borderline ludicrous. Lemieux is the greatest athlete in Pittsburgh sports history. Mario, Honus Wagner and Terry Bradshaw are the Pittsburgh big three.

Hey John:

Just figured I'd share some comments. Including myself, I know of a handful of other guys that used to read your articles religiously, but once the lockout started, your columns came across as such a homer for the players that you no longer seemed objective. You alienated a lot of us, and if we feel that way in my circle of hockey nuts … there must be puckheads across the country that share the same sentiment. Say hey to Ken.

Best,
Mike Khowaylo
New Jersey

I've received e-mails saying I'm "pro-player" and some saying I was "pro-NHL." I guess that's a good thing. If you go back and read all my columns in the archive, I can't see how one can determine that I was pro-anybody.

JB,

Eddie "The Ego" Belfour isn't too happy with the rule disallowing the goalie to play the puck outside of a zoned area around the net. I agree -- why don't they allow the goalie to play the puck anywhere he chooses, but if he goes outside the crease he is "fair game?" Goalies these days have the size and protection of any other player and I think if they became fair game outside their crease the idea of a goalie "over-playing" the puck would police itself.

Randy Chadwick
Overland Park, Kan.

Goalies can't be fair game because there are too many instances where they would get clobbered by some rat claiming innocence. There would be too much of a gray area. Gray areas are bad.

John,

I can only imagine the amount of hate mail you've received in regard to your stance on fighting in the NHL. And I hope that my e-mail isn't deleted for fear of me being one of those jerks. Yet, in this instance, I strongly disagree with the logic you've put forth on what to do after such a ban.

I don't think players can enforce fairness on the ice without fighting. If anything, too many guys like Darius Kasparaitis, Ville Nieminen (yes, I'm a Rangers fan) and Bryan Marchment make their money being cheap-shot artists. I think having a [Georges] Laraque or a [Darren] Langdon on your roster is more of a deterrent for such acts than the refs and linesmen who, by the way, have been absolutely abysmal at catching those guys.

Marc Skalias

The NFL did a great job taking spearing out of the game and is now focusing on blows to the head. Ejecting, suspending and fining offenders. If the NFL doesn't have fighting, why should the NHL?

Bucci,

Will Stevie Y's final season be something truly special, or should they just give him a No. 33 Lakers jersey and a goofy pair of goggles to wear while other teams give him paintings and motorcycles? More importantly, we could use your talent in choosing a name. Our firstborn is due on Jan. 14.

Thanks brutha,
Michael Sullivan
Chicago

Someday, the Red Wings will have a new arena and there will be a 15-foot bronze statue of Gordie Howe on one end of the rink and Steve Yzerman on the other. I'd get Stevie new wedges. Golfers should get new wedges every two years, and I bet Steve is due.

Boy: Sean Stanley Sullivan
Girl: Katherine Belle Sullivan

John,

Please start the Jimmy Howard NHL bandwagon now. He is going to be amazing.

Thanks,
Scott

Come on aboard, I promise you, you won't hurt the horse
We treat him well, we feed him well
There's lots of room for you on the bandwagon, The road may be rough, the weather may forget us
But won't we all parade around and sing our songs,
A magic kingdom, open-armed
-- Michael Stipe

Hey John,

I was wondering what your take is on fantasy hockey leagues? It'd be awesome to see you do a piece on a mock fantasy hockey draft of your own.

Take it easy,
Dan C.
(P.S. -- I call my fantasy hockey team "chik parm" every year.)

I have to be honest, I have never done a fantasy hockey league. I did a goals-only league back in 1995 and won. I used the winnings to buy a pair of Asics running shoes that I still have. I do baseball fantasy, usually cash, and need the mental break to watch stress-free NHL hockey. Maybe this year.

John,

Keep squawking about the benefit of rules changes. A preponderance of people in any business who declare new ideas to be invalid because they come from people who do not "know the game" are often the same people who will watch over their ultimate downfall.

One thing I noted in my MBA studies, where the case-study method rules above all: It is simultaneously alarming and yet calmingly predictable how many businesses and industries fail because the incumbents refuse to adapt to a changing marketplace and discount new ideas and suggestions, simply because the originators of those suggestions are not native to the business. What is lost on these types is that it is often the ideas that are generated from outside that are the ones that save the business.

Fresh thinking is always a good thing.
Greg Heinz
Charlotte, N.C.

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.

John Buccigross | email

SportsCenter anchor
John Buccigross joined ESPN as an anchor in October 1996. He currently can be seen as an anchor on "SportsCenter." Buccigross frequently contributes to ESPN.com during the season.

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