Ex-Captain to US Hockey Team: "Play Loose"

Cammi Granato at an Olympic event on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010. CBS/Ina Fried (CNET)
CBS/Ina Fried (CNET)
This story was written by CNET's Ina Fried

The next installment in the Canada vs. United States hockey battle takes place later on Thursday as the women's teams battle for the gold medal.

I had a chance Wednesday night to catch up with Cammi Granato, captain of the U.S. team that captured the gold medal in 1998 in Nagano, Japan. As for what it will take for the U.S. to win a second gold medal, Granato said the keys will be excellent goaltending and solid work on both power plays and penalty killing.

"If they just play loose," Granato said, "Canada's got more pressure on."

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Granato, who is now retired and a commentator for NBC, recalled her Olympic experience at an event hosted by computer maker Acer. Inspired by the 1980 "Miracle on Ice," Granato said she grew up, like her three brothers, wanting to play for Team USA.

"All of our games in the basement revolved around U.S. versus Russia," Granato said.

At the time, though, that meant making the men's squad. 'I didn't realize being a girl would stop me," she said. Over time, though, that became clearer, even though the Olympic dream did not fade.

Her desire to play in the Olympics only grew when her brother played for the U.S. Olympic team in the 1988 Calgary games. She said she was very thankful that women's hockey was added in 1998, allowing her dream to come true.

For other women, though, that dream could be in jeopardy. The buzz at the games is that the continued inclusion of women's hockey could come under scrutiny because the U.S. and Canada so thoroughly dominated competition.

Canada and the US are clearly the top two teams in the sport, having split most of the major international championships, although the U.S was upset by Sweden in the semifinals in 2006 in Torino, with the U.S. having to settle for the Bronze.

Canada is going for its third gold medal in a row, but the U.S. has won the last two world championships. In exhibition matches during the 2009-2010 season, Canada won five of six contests.

Canadian star Hayley Wickenheiser acknowledged both the men's and women's team from the host country are under pressure.

"We talk about it openly and it's a burden we share together, a positive one and we sort of joke about it," she told reporters on Wednesday. "It's an honor and definitely a responsibility."

As for playing in front of a huge Canadian crowd, American forward Monique Lamoureux said she isn't too worried.

"For me, when everyone is cheering against you, half the time you don't understand what they are saying," she told reporters on Wednesday. "It's just a bunch of noise."

According to reports, IOC chairman Jacques Rogge has said that women's hockey needs to be more competitive to remain in the games.

"There is a discrepancy there, everyone agrees with that," Rogge was quoted as saying in the Vancouver Sun. "This is maybe the investment period in women's ice hockey. I would personally give them more time to grow but there must be a period of improvement. We cannot continue without improvement."