International Ice Hockey Federation

WW Top 25 Stories: #10

WW Top 25 Stories: #10

Lightning strikes for Manon of the crease

Published 26.03.2015 21:06 GMT+1 | Author Andrew Podnieks
WW Top 25 Stories: #10
Female goalie Manon Rheaume played an NHL exhibition game with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Photo: James Welch / Hockey Hall of Fame
23 September 1992. As an executive after his playing days, Phil Esposito was a showman, to be sure.

But as a player, he talked the talk and walked the walk as only legends did.

And never was there a time he had to be a showman more than in 1992 as general manager of the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning. A team of castoffs and extras from around the league in Year One, the Lightning needed every word of publicity it could get, and when Esposito saw Manon Rheaume play – and saw how attractive she was off ice – he knew he had something. He invited her to training camp and then put her into an NHL exhibition game!

But first, he had to convince his brother, Tony, assistant GM, and head coach Terry Crisp, that he wasn’t mad.

“They weren't so happy,” Esposito recalled with a chuckle. “They said, 'What are you, crazy?' I said, 'Guys, we're an expansion team... We need the publicity.' Why do you think I drafted Brent Gretzky? We had to get people in the building!”

Rheaume was not just another pretty face, though. She had played for Trois-Rivieres in the male world of the QMJHL and had led Canada’s women’s team to gold at the 1992 Women’s Worlds. At a time when the Lightning needed publicity, so, too, did women’s hockey.

But as the goalie pointed out later, one man’s publicity stunt is another woman’s golden opportunity.

“At that time, I didn't really care what his intentions were,” Rheaume admitted of Esposito’s signing of her. “There were so many times in my life that people said 'No' to me because I was a girl. I trained really hard that summer to get ready for camp [in Tampa Bay] and be in good shape...

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“But the bottom line was I had two things I told myself. The first was that I didn't want to live my life with regrets, so I didn't want to not do this and then 10 years later say what if I would have done it. The second was that people were saying they only invited me because I was a girl, but I had to prove myself there.

“It's one thing to be invited, but I still had to go out there and skate and practise with all the attention that I had. It was a lot of pressure, and I think people forget about that. I had to perform, so the team didn't look bad and I didn't look bad."

And so, on 23rd September 1992, Rheaume led her team onto the ice and started the game in goal. She played the first period, against St. Louis, and by the time she skated off for the first intermission, the game was tied, 2-2.

She never played in the NHL again, but Esposito got his attention, and so, too, did women’s hockey. Media around the world clamoured to know about the female goalie in the NHL. Rheaume went on to win gold at the 1994 Women’s Worlds and silver at the Nagano Olympics. She played pro on many teams in the IHL and drew more attention to women’s hockey than any other player.

Publicity? Sure. Embarrassing? No way. Good for the women’s game? You better believe it!

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of women's hockey in the IIHF, writer Andrew Podnieks is counting down the top 25 stories in women's international hockey history. One story each day will appear until the Number 1 story is unveiled the morning of the gold-medal game of the 2015 Women's Worlds in Malmo, Sweden, on April 4.

Earlier Top 25 Stories:
#11: 15-year-old Martin leads Sweden to bronze
#12: Angela James cut prior to Nagano
#13: Amanda Kessel misses 2014/15 with concussion
#14: IIHF removes body-checking from women’s hockey
#15: Jenni Hiirikoski becomes first Euro two-timer
#16: Former NHLer Yashin leads Russian women to bronze
#17: Cammi Granato cut before Turin
#18: Visitors win twice in North American finals
#19: IIHF makes Women’s Worlds official for 1990
#20: Rogge issues challenge to women’s hockey
#21: IIHF goes to all-women officials
#22: Shannon Miller recruits Euros for NCAA
#23: IIHF introduces junior event for women
#24: Zorn a goalie and skater both
#25: Russia-Switzerland a dandy display in 2011


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