In celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Manon Rheaume breaking the gender barrier in men’s professional hockey, other women have followed in her trail blazing footsteps. A little over a year after Rheaume’s historic match, Erin Whitten would be the next to compete against men.
Whitten would play in an East Coast Hockey League match on October 30, 1993, becoming the first women’s goaltender to play on the winning team, as the Toledo Storm defeated the Dayton Bombers by a 6-5 tally. She would also compete for the Adirondack Red Wings during the 1993-94 American Hockey League season, becoming the first woman to participate in an AHL match.
During the 1995-96 hockey season, Whitten would compete with the Flint Generals. She stood between the pipes in a 6-5 win over the Detroit Falcons, becoming the first woman to play all sixty minutes of a professional hockey game. Later in the season, she would play forward in one game, the first woman to do so. It would not be until 2003 that a woman scored a goal in a professional men’s game. Hayley Wickenheiser accomplished the feat in 2003 with HC Salamut of the Finnish National League.
The third goalie to play in a men’s professional game was Danielle Dube. Ironically, she attended the training camp with Manon Rheaume for the Canadian Olympic women’s hockey team competing at the Nagano Games in 1998. Dube would compete with the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the IHL, and stand between the pipes against the San Diego Gulls. Of note, Dube would also play in the longest game in hockey history (accomplished in 2011).
As a member of the 1998 Canadian women’s hockey team that claimed silver at the Nagano Games, the women that followed Rheaume at the 2002 and 2006 Winter Games made their own history. Kim St. Pierre, who was in net for Canada in the victorious gold medal game at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games participated with the McGill Redmen in a Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s hockey game versus the Ryerson Rams. Before Charline Labonte led Canada to gold at the 2006 Torino Winter Games, she followed Rheaume as the second woman to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Despite the great strides that women have undertaken in hockey, when will the most competitive ice hockey league in the world allow another young lady the opportunity to pick up where Rheaume left off? Give credit to former hockey legends Bobby Clarke and Bob Gainey for their efforts. After the Nagano Winter Games, Clarke invited Wickenheiser to attend Flyers rookie camp. In 2008, Gainey needed an emergency goaltender for a Montreal Canadiens practice and gave St. Pierre the opportunity.
The opportunity that slipped away occurred in 2010. After Shannon Szabados posted a shutout in the gold medal game of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, she deserved an opportunity. In the middle of a dismal season, the Edmonton Oilers encountered an unforeseen string of injuries with its goaltending corps. In need of an emergency goalie, the Oilers did not sign Szabados. Having played most of her hockey career against men (in junior ranks), signing Szabados would have made an impact statement throughout the league. It sparked a minor controversy in the media, with many stating that Szabados deserved the chance.
To be fair, many franchises have allowed women’s ice hockey players other opportunities. United States hockey legends Karen Bye and Angela Ruggiero (who also played with her brother Bill in a match with the Tulsa Oilers) have made front office contributions with the Minnesota Wild and New York Islanders, respectively. Cammi Granato was a broadcaster with the Los Angeles Kings, while Cassie Campbell became the first woman to provide commentary on a broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada, and Jennifer Botterill is also a contributor to HNIC.
There are still other opportunities that have not yet been explored by professional men’s hockey. When the National Basketball Association hired Violet Palmer to serve as a female referee during the 1998-99 NBA season, it seemed inevitable that a female referee would grace the ice in men’s hockey. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment for women in men’s hockey is that there are two women that have had their names engraved on the Stanley Cup. In 1989, Sonia Scurfield (part owner of the Calgary Flames) became the first to have her name engraved on the Cup. In 2001, Charlotte Grahame (senior director of hockey for Colorado) had her name engraved, while her son John Grahame would have his name on the Cup when he helped Tampa Bay win in 2004. It would make the Grahames the first mother-son combination to have their names engraved on the Cup.
With more women occupying administrative positions in hockey (including the key leadership roles in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League), a female General Manager must be an inevitability. With many women’s ice hockey players competing in Ivy League schools, their level of education will certainly shape them into tomorrow’s general managers. One such example is former Princeton Tigers goaltender Cassie Seguin. Currently, she is the team manager with the Ottawa Gee Gees. “A good experience. You see a different side of the game,” said Seguin.
Despite the struggles that women still endure in the hockey world, there are some feel good stories. Erika Vanderveer, a former goaltender with Ohio State and the CWHL’s Toronto Furies is an editor with The Hockey News. Amanda Shaw, a one-time forward for Boston University, and a former player for the now defunct Burlington Barracudas is a key leader in the charity Hockey Helps the Homeless. At the Ottawa hockey tournament for HHtH, Shaw played on a men’s team.
Former Connecticut Huskies and Clarkson Golden Knights player Dominique Thibault (also a Clarkson Cup champion) was one of two women that participated in a hockey reality show in Quebec. The program featured two men’s teams (one from Montreal and one from Quebec City), and both squads would feature one female ice hockey player. Thibault competed as a forward with the squad from Quebec, while Jenny Lavigne (a Clarkson Cup champion also) was the goaltender for Montreal. “There was body checking. I had to keep my head up. My teammates were very respectful. They were like my brothers,” stated Thibault.
Although it may take another generation before more women constitute ownership and management in men’s hockey, every victory, no matter how small, is another crucial step forward. It is important to recognize that every opportunity that is given to women in hockey is another building block in creating a legacy that young girls can look up to and find inspiration.
All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated