On September 23, 1992 the NHL experienced an important first in their history and the Tampa Bay Lightning helped it come to pass. The Bolts’ exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues saw goaltender Manon Rhéaume play one period in net. It was the first time a woman played in any of the North American professional sports leagues and the impact of her play continues to echo today.
Before the Lightning even played the first games of their inaugural season, they were already making headlines when Rhéaume was issued an invitation to training camp. She came on their radar when team founder and general manager Phil Esposito received a tape of a goalie prospect from Quebec City. Espo thought the goalie was small but had good reflexes and told Lightning scout Jacques Comeau to invite “him” to camp. “He” turned out to be a “she” and Esposito knew good publicity when he saw it.
Manon started playing goalie at the age of five and had already played in a major junior game as well as backstopping Team Canada’s women’s team to a gold medal at the 1992 World Championships. She was there to play hockey, not make headlines. Every player at an NHL training camp is under a microscope, but she faced even more scrutiny and media attention.
“There were two different feelings. I had people telling me, ‘Are you not afraid to look bad out there?’ But I had other people totally supporting me in this. I trained really hard that summer to get ready for camp and be in good shape. But when I got there, it was obviously overwhelming. 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 practice 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, “ Rhéaume said. (Quote Source: Official Lightning Site)
Even though her NHL career only lasted for 20 minutes of that exhibition game, the impact it had on women’s hockey continues to be felt. Many girls were inspired to try their hands at hockey and female participation in the sport continues to grow massively for the last 20 years. Her role in that is definitely still in her mind.
“I think the most important thing that came out of it is that I was able to make a positive impact on lots of young girls, and that made me feel good. To this day I think that is my best memory of the whole experience – how I was able to impact young girls and show them that they can achieve their goals and dreams,” Rhéaume said. (Quote Source: Official Lightning Site)