Angela James and Cammi Granato blazed a hockey trail for years. On Tuesday, it led them to the Hall of Fame.
James, a forward from Toronto, was a scoring star domestically and for Canada at the first women's world hockey championships.
Granato, a forward from Downers Grove, Ill., captained the U.S. women to the first Olympic gold medal awarded in women's hockey in 1998.
Granato and James will be the first female faces to hang in the Great Hall in Toronto alongside Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr when they enter Nov. 8.
"This is a day I never really thought would ever happen," James said. "I'm really honoured to represent the female hockey players from all over the world."
Up to four male players are eligible for induction annually, but only Dino Ciccarelli of Sarnia, Ont., received what some feel is a long overdue nod.
Detroit Red Wings executive Jim Devellano and, posthumously, Calgary Flames founding member Daryl "Doc" Seaman will enter in the builder category.
Women were given their own player category for the first time this year. James and Granato fill the Hall's maximum of two female inductees per year.
Women eligible all along
While the Hall insists women have been eligible for induction all along, there was little chance of that happening if their careers were compared to that of NHL players.
The all-male 18-member selection committee voted Tuesday morning.
Chairman Bill Hay said he wasn't worried about a perceived imbalance of males and female players entering the Hall this year when there are so many retired NHL players lined up for induction.
"The selection committee at no time are concerned about the new inductees," he said. "It's time for females to be in. Changing the voting regulations to accommodate under the player category for two women, and the maximum of four players who are male, really fits with our long-range plan."
James, 45, was Canada's dominant female player in the 1970s and 1980s. Dubbed "the Wayne Gretzky of women's hockey", she was top scorer for eight seasons and MVP for six in the Central Ontario Women's League. James was also MVP at eight Canadian championships.
She recorded 34 points for Canada in 20 games over the first four world championships in 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1997.
She scored 11 goals in the inaugural tournament in 1990 when the Canadian women wore pink jerseys to market their game.
"Back in the days when we wore pink uniforms, we did what it took to get our game on the map," James said. "We didn't care if we were wearing polka-dots, we just wanted to play."
Mother of 3
James is now a mother of three children and works as a sports co-ordinator at Seneca College in Toronto.
Granato, who lives in Vancouver and is married to former NHL player Ray Ferraro, is the only woman to participate in each of the first nine women's world championships sanctioned by the IIHF.
The 39-year-old remains the all-time leader in goals and points for the U.S. in world championships. Granato was Eastern College Athletic Conference player of the year three straight seasons for Providence College from 1991 to 1993. She then played in Canada for the Concordia Stingers, helping that team to three Quebec titles.
Granato, James and Canadian defenceman Geraldine Heaney were the first women to enter the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame two years ago. Granato was also the first female to enter the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
"When you're younger you are playing because you love the game and you don't even know the difference between you and the boy next to you and then all of a sudden people start pointing that out," Granato said.
"You realize there's these barriers you have to break through, whether it's someone on the other team bullying you because you're the only girl, or fighting for ice time when you're in college."
Ciccarelli badly broke his leg his second year of junior hockey and was told he'd never play hockey again. But he went on to score 608 goals and 592 assists over 19 NHL seasons with Minnesota, Washington, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Florida.
"You get so emotional thinking about this," Ciccarelli said. "I just lost my mom a few months ago and my dad a few years ago.
"It would have been nice to enjoy it with my parents, but I've got my kids, my family and a lot of friends. We're going to enjoy this and celebrate it."