In the late 20th century, one of the most relevant dates for women in hockey (and sport) came on September 23, 1992. Manon Rheaume, a 20-year-old from Lac Beaufort, Quebec, stood between the pipes in an exhibition game for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The opposing team that day was the St. Louis Blues. With a lineup that featured Brett Hull and Brendan Shanahan, the two could make even the most seasoned NHL goaltender nervous. The Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall hosted the game, and fans would witness hockey history as Rheaume allowed two goals in the exhibition game. The crowd would give her a standing ovation in a 6-4 loss. For trivia buffs, Jeff Brown scored the first goal on her in that game.
The early life of Rheaume was marked by making history and would define what was to come later. In 1984, she became the first girl to play at the Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament. As a 19-year-old in 1991, she became the first woman to compete in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, as she stood between the pipes for the Trois-Rivieres Draveurs.
Good hockey genes run in Rheaume’s family. Her brother Pascal played for the New Jersey Devils and, ironically, the St. Louis Blues.
While there are many cynics to this day who claim the entire event was a publicity stunt, Rheaume displayed great courage in a valiant effort and survived her baptism of fire. Just like Ann Meyers signing with the Indiana Pacers of the NBA, Annika Sorenstam playing on the PGA and Danica Patrick participating in auto racing, Rheaume proved she was good enough to compete with the men.
After her stint with the Lightning, Rheaume was reassigned to the minor league Atlanta Knights of the International Hockey League. She continued to make history by being the first woman to appear in an IHL contest. The opposing team would be the Salt Lake Golden Eagles. In later years, Rheaume would find herself playing for many different franchises.
The names are as varied as the locations she toiled in: Las Vegas Thunder, Knoxville Cherokees, Nashville Knights, Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, Reno Renegades and the Port Huron Icehawks. Of all the teams she suited up for, her time with the Reno Renegades may have been the most rewarding, as she led all goaltenders on the club with a goals against average of 5.65. Hank Snow’s classic country song, "I’ve Been Everywhere," would perfectly define the well-traveled Rheaume’s career.
Summer seasons did not mean a stop to Rheaume’s career. She competed in competitive roller hockey with the New Jersey Rockin Rollers. She would also play for the Sacramento River Rats franchise and become the first woman to win a men’s game in professional roller hockey.
Throughout her minor league journey, she would also carve a remarkable legacy in women’s hockey. She helped Canada to gold medals at the 1992 and 1994 IIHF women’s world championships. In 1994, she would play for Les Lawton, the first women’s coach to win 500 games. She would be an All-Star selection in both tournaments.
In 1998, she was part of the first Canadian contingent to participate in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games. Despite a silver medal, Rheaume’s presence helped to make the event relevant to fans and media alike.
Two years later, Rheaume would compete in the 2000-01 National Women’s Hockey League season with the Montreal Wingstar. Rather than occupy her usual position within the crease, Rheaume competed as a forward. Her teammates included the two greatest women’s hockey players in Quebec history, France St. Louis and Caroline Ouellette. Current Montreal Stars general manager Meg Hewings was also on the roster.
In 2009, Rheaume would also play for the Minnesota Whitecaps, the most successful women’s club team in United States hockey history.
Rheaume also entered the realm of coaching. Working for Shannon Miller, she was the goalie coach for the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs at the turn of the millennium (for the 1999-2000 season). As the Canadian women’s hockey team claimed gold at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games, Rheaume was coaching the first all-girl team to compete in the Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament. The squad was affectionately known as Mission Betty.
She would also coach girl’s hockey in 2005 in Brookfield, Wisconsin while working as the director of marketing (and girl’s hockey) for a sporting complex called Powerade Iceport.
A resident of Michigan, Rheaume has been very active in the hockey community. With Titan Sports, she organized the 2009 Manon Rheaume Girls Hockey Tournament for elite girls hockey players in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The Flint Generals had Rheaume become the third woman to play for the Generals, as she appeared in an IHL game with the squad on April 3, 2009.
To this very day, Rheaume would look just as comfortable on the runway of a fashion show as she does on the ice. Helping out with coaching duties for her sons Cody and Dylan’s hockey teams, Rheaume can also add the title of hockey mom to her impressive list of accolades.
At the 2011 Quebec Pee Wee international tournament, her son, Dylan St. Cyr (also a goaltender), and Igor Larionov’s son both played for the Detroit Honeybaked team.
In 2012, the 20th Anniversary of Rheaume’s breaking the gender barrier, it is only fitting that the championship team at the Quebec Tournament (the LA Selects) had a girl (Cayla Barnes) as their captain.
At the age of 40, Rheaume continued to play hockey. She competed as a forward for Detroit Honeybaked's Senior A team. In addition, she scored the championship-winning goal in the MAHA Senior A Women’s tournament. She scored on Detroit Little Caesars goalie Nicolette Frank to claim the title.
Despite never playing a regular season game for the Lightning, her story made international news. She instantly became a media darling and a role model for women everywhere while inspiring an entire generation of girls to play hockey. She set the table for future generations of women’s ice hockey players.
While there are women (like Fran Rider in Ontario, Shirley Cameron in Alberta and Lisa-Marie Breton in Quebec) who are key builders of the game, Rheaume was the catalyst. Her role made fans the world over understand that women played hockey, a role that makes her worthy of entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame.