28 years ago yesterday (September 23rd), Manon Rheaume made history. She became the first woman to play in any of the North American men’s professional sports leagues when she stepped on the ice for an NHL preseason game. So, here’s her story. I also highly recommend checking out this incredible interview with her here, as she talks about what it was like on that fateful September day, as well as her legacy.
Rheaume Best Known For Breaking Barriers
As I alluded to above, Manon Rheaume, who’s a goaltender, is the first (and only) woman to play a game in the NHL. But, that’s not the only barrier she broke. From a young age, she was the first girl to play in a lot of leagues and tournaments. For example, back in 1984, she became the first girl to ever play in the famous Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament. Then, seven years later, she broke another barrier when she became the first woman to ever play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
As impressive as those accomplishments are, she is most commonly remembered from playing in two NHL preseason games. She was signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992-93, and she appeared in one preseason game against the St. Louis Blues for them on September 23rd, 1992. She only played 20 minutes, and she allowed two goals on nine shots. She’d later play one more period for the Lightning in a 1993 preseason game against the Boston Bruins. In that game, she stopped eight of the 11 shots she faced. Rheaume also played in 24 games in various men’s minor pro leagues over the course of several seasons.
She Also Accomplished a Lot in the Women’s Game
Outside of men’s hockey, Manon Rheaume also had a great, albeit short, career in women’s hockey. She appeared in two IIHF Women’s World Championships for Team Canada in 1992 and 1994, winning gold in both. She appeared in seven games over the course of the two tournaments, over which she held an eye-popping 1.20 goals-against average (GAA) to go along with a solid 0.911 save percentage (SV%). Rheaume was named to the All-Star team at both tournaments. In addition to appearing in the two World Championships, Rheaume backstopped Team Canada during the first women’s hockey tournament at the Olympics in 1998. She played in four games at the Olympics, over which she compiled a staggering 0.87 GAA and 0.944 SV% on the way to earning a silver medal.
Rheaume Inspired Countless Girls to Chase Their Dreams
The most enduring part of Rheaume’s legacy is how many girls she has and continues to inspire with her story. She is an incredible example of someone who never gave up on their dream and ended up breaking some enormous barriers. Even though no one else has been able to do what she did, she proved that it was possible. Because of her, countless girls decided to pursue their dream of playing hockey, and there’s still more doing the same because of her today. She’s currently the Girls Program Coordinator for the Little Ceasers AAA Hockey Club in Detroit and the head coach of their 12U girl’s team. So, she’s still doing what she can to inspire the next generation of girls to chase their dream no matter what anybody tells them, just like she did.
She Deserves to Be Honored As a True Sports Legend
No other woman has ever played in a North American men’s professional sports league. Rheaume should be recognized as a true hockey and sports legend for the barriers she broke. However, not everyone knows her name, which is a complete and utter shame. The things she did make her more than deserving of sports legend status. She also deserves a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and it honestly surprises me she hasn’t earned one already, at least as a builder. Hopefully, that changes soon, because she deserves to be forever enshrined with the rest of hockey’s greats.
Rheaume should be a household name, and not just among hockey fans. Her story has already inspired countless girls, but it could inspire so many more as well. I sincerely hope that one day she gets the respect she deserves from all sports fans, and people in general. This is incredibly cheesy, but she is living proof that dreams can come true, no matter how many people tell you they can’t. Manon Rheaume. Share her name and her story.
-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)
Featured image courtesy of Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
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