For a number of decades, hockey was seen as a man’s sport.
Today that’s not the case as women’s hockey is played at every level including the pros and the Olympics.
One of the earliest trailblazers of the women’s puck game was Manon Rheaume.
Rheaume loved the sport and regularly ignored those that said she should play something else.
She would pay her dues for several years in minor league hockey before getting an opportunity with the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL in 1992.
28 years ago, @ManonRheaume became the first woman to play in the NHL when she entered as a goalie for the @TBLightning in an exhibition game against the @StLouisBlues! 👏 #HockeyIsForEveryone pic.twitter.com/7260fLmcJ5
— NHL (@NHL) September 23, 2020
Her appearance as a member of the Lightning that year inspired girls everywhere that they can play hockey too.
This is the incredible true story of Manon Rheaume.
Manon Rheaume was born on February 24, 1972, in Lac Beauport, Quebec, Canada.
Hockey was already a huge part of the Rheaume family and Manon was immersed in the sport by the time she could walk.
Rheaume’s father, Pierre, was a hockey coach who was also in charge of a local outdoor rink.
Rheaume also grew up with several brothers who played the game.
One day, Rheaume’s father came home dejected and made a comment that his youth team didn’t have a goalie.
Wanting to be like her brothers, young Manon asked if she could be the goalie for her dad.
Rheaume’s mother didn’t think it was a good idea, but she eventually relented when Rheaume’s brothers convinced their mom that Manon could play.
“I owe my brothers everything. They’re the reason I started playing hockey. They needed a “shooter tutor,” so they made me dress up as a goalie. If I wanted to play with them, I had to get in net,” said Rheaume in 2022.
Although she took a beating as a goalie, Rheaume soon realized she enjoyed the position and wanted to keep playing.
A young Manon Rhéaume preparing for greatness. She won 2 gold medals for the women’s National team, an Olympic Silver medal, and she was the only women to ever play in an #NHL game. #Legend #CanadianMade pic.twitter.com/lwdILjIowE
— The Original Burnsie (@BurnsieOriginal) November 1, 2020
The only problem was, she was frequently cut from teams because she was a girl.
Rheaume didn’t let the negativity get to her and continued trying out for teams. She was also encouraged by her father.
“People aren’t ready to see a girl play on a boys’ team yet. But don’t let that stop you,” said Rheaume about her father.
Eventually, Rheaume became adept at the goaltending position and became the object of jealousy by some local parents.
Rheaume Makes her way through the Minors
When she turned 11, Rheaume was the first girl to be named to the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament.
During the tournament, she stopped several shots and became a crowd favorite.
Shortly after the tournaments, members of the media asked Rheaume if she thought girls should be allowed to play hockey at higher levels.
“One day, a woman will make the National Hockey League, if no one prevents her,” Rheaume answered bluntly.
A few years later, Rheaume broke barriers again when she became the first woman to play for the Trois-Rivières Draveurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for the 1991-92 season.
Tampa Bay brings Rheaume in for a Try-out
While playing in the QMJHL, Rheaume was spotted by a scout for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The scout sent video clips of Rheaume to Lightning general manager Phil Esposito.
The former NHL player and Hall of Famer liked what he saw, but thought the goalie was a little small.
When Esposito then found out Rheaume was a girl, he was shocked but decided to bring her in for a tryout anyway.
It was later learned that Esposito brought Rheaume to Tampa Bay as a publicity stunt.
Vintage picture of Patrick Roy and Manon Rhéaume with Gary Bettman.. 😂 pic.twitter.com/4xFCd76sOi
— Ryan (@HawkeyBrah) January 31, 2022
However, Rheaume didn’t mind.
“It didn’t matter to me why I was invited. …if this time someone said yes to me because I’m a girl, I was going to take that opportunity. At the end of the day I still had to prove myself on the ice,” said Rheaume.
After the tryout went well, Rheaume stuck around for the Lightning training camp.
By the end of camp, she had the third-best goals-against average of any Lightning goalie.
Furthermore, during intrasquad games, Rheaume didn’t allow any goals.
It didn’t take long before the Tampa Bay coaches realized Rheaume was better than advertised and deserved a chance to play in an exhibition game.
Rheaume Makes History
After consulting one another, the coaches decided to give Rheaume a chance to play against NHL level competition.
They named her as the starting goalie for an exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues on September 23, 1992.
On this date in 1992, Manon Rheaume became the first woman ever to play in an NHL exhibition game, when she played in goal for #TBLightning. She made 7 saves and gave up two goals in one period in a game against the Blues, in Tampa Bay. pic.twitter.com/ySUGVNFP9Y
— Jen (@NHLhistorygirl) September 23, 2021
The decision to start Rheaume would mark the first time in league history that a woman would suit up for an NHL pre-season game.
Soon, the national media found out about the monumental event and Rheaume’s name was suddenly known from coast to coast.
In the hours leading up to the game, Rheaume was understandably nervous. However, those nerves disappeared when the puck dropped.
“The butterflies all went away and it was like I forgot I was playing in an NHL game,” she said. “It was just like I was in the place I had been my entire life since I was five. I just went out and played hockey.”
Rheaume would only play during the first period of the game. However, she stopped seven of nine shots.
One of the goals scored was by Brendan Shanahan who would one day be in the Hall of Fame.
“It’s truly the most nerve-racking moment of my life,” Rheaume said years later. “I knew my performance was so important. It was not just another game that you just go and play in.”
Before the start of the second period, Stephane Quintal of the Blues complimented Rheaume on what she had accomplished.
“Great job, and congratulations on what you just accomplished,” said Quintal to Rheaume.
Although she did well in her one period of action, Rheaume did not make the team.
The following year, Tampa Bay brought Rheaume back and she appeared in another preseason game against the Boston Bruins.
That game would mark the end of her time in the NHL.
Rheaume Continues her Career
Between stints with the Lightning, Rheaume was added to the Canadian national women’s ice hockey team.
She would win a gold medal as a member of the team during the ‘92 IIHF Women’s World Championships.
That same year, Rheaume was signed by the Atlanta Knights of the International Hockey League.
28 Years Ago today: Manon Rheaume became the 1st woman to appear in a regular season professional hockey game, for the IHL’s Atlanta Knights 🏒🇨🇦 pic.twitter.com/I0EE4H00lr
— Faces Magazine (@facesottawa) December 13, 2020
When she appeared in a game against the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, it marked the first time that a woman played in a regular-season professional hockey game.
“We gave her a cigar with a note afterword,” Atlanta coach Gene Ubriaco told reporters afterward. “Now, you’re really one of the guys.”
For her part, Rheaume was modest about the achievement.
“I know the people want to see me, and I understand, but they must understand me. I am not ready. Not yet,” Rheaume told reporters.
During the next five years, Rheaume would play for seven different professional teams that included stops in Florida, Tennessee, and Nevada.
She would win gold again with the Canadian Women’s national team in the Women’s World Championships in 1994.
Rheaume also won a silver medal as part of the Canadian women’s Olympic team in the 1998 Winter Olympics.
She retired from full-time competition after the ‘98 Olympics.
Hockey Involvement Continues in Retirement
After stepping away from the ice in 1998, Rheaume didn’t give up hockey entirely.
She spent time as a goalie coach with the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs and also worked as a marketing director for Mission Hockey based in Irvine, California.
In 2009, Rheaume made brief appearances in net for the Flint, Michigan Generals of the IHL and the Minnesota Whitecaps of the Premier Hockey Federation.
Her play with the Whitecaps helped the team get to the Clarkson Cup Finals.
In the fall of 2021, Rheaume was hired by Bally Sports Detroit as an analyst and reporter for the Detroit Red Wings.
Our Game Changers series continues for #WomensHistoryMonth with Manon Rhéaume, The First Woman of Hockey™ and Little Caesars AAA girls program coordinator.
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) March 10, 2021
Nearly everywhere she goes, Rheaume is recognized and acknowledged as a crucial pioneer in the world of hockey.
To many, without Rheaume, opportunities for women in the sport would be few and far between today.
“I didn’t know that it would inspire so many people,” she said. “It was much later in my life that I realized it was a big deal and I did impact people with my story and inspired people to want to do the same.”