As a hockey fan, does the name Manon Rheaume mean anything to you? It should.
But, then again, maybe it shouldn’t. It was 18 years ago today, September 23, 1992 that Rheaume did something no woman has done before or since. She appeared in a period of NHL exhibition hockey. At the time, her feat made hockey headlines everywhere – keeping in mind that hockey headlines were a lot smaller in those days. It’s almost twenty years later, and there are still very strong feelings about whether or not Rheaume deserved her chance or was simply a novelty.
The caveat in assessing Rheaume’s one-game exhibition appearance with the Tampa Bay Lightning, 18 years ago, is that we are doing it in hindsight. In September 1992, Lightning general manager Phil Esposito was working to ice Tampa Bay’s first NHL squad. They were about to join the NHL. Publicity was king. Had to fill some seats in Florida. And here’s a gorgeous, French-Canadian female netminder, who’s already played a game in major junior hockey. Frankly, when you position it that way, having her at the Lightning’s first training camp is a no-brainer.
What if, in her only period of exhibition hockey, Rheaume had played lights-out? What if she’d stopped everything? She’d have been given a further shot at making the team, that’s what. And who knows where that might have gone. To refer to her as a “novelty” only flies in retrospect.
On August 19, 1951, 3’ 7”, 26-year old Eddie Gaedel took an at-bat for the St. Louis Browns. You know the story. He wore number “⅛” on his jersey. Received a four-pitch walk. Was replaced by a pinch runner. Never played another major league game. Has an autograph that, today, is worth more than Babe Ruth’s. That’s a “novelty.”
Manon Rheaume could legitimately play the game. She’d won a gold medal at the 1992 World Championships. On the Lightning’s website, Rheaume remembers her feelings before camp. “My thought was, what a great opportunity to do a training camp with the best players in the world,” Rheaume recalled. “I decided I didn’t want to look back and be sad that I didn’t try. I didn’t care about being the first. I would do this if I was second, third or fourth. I always wanted to do things that made me better.” Does that sound like a “novelty” to you? Me neither.
I think it’s sensational that Manon Rheaume had that opportunity. At the height of her notoriety, she turned down offers to pose from Playboy and Penthouse magazines. Because she’s smart. A couple of years ago, Rheaume formed the Manon Rheaume Foundation – Inspiring Young Women to Win at the Game of Life.
Rheaume told lightning.nhl.com, “I had no clue that my life would change the way it did. To be honest with you, I didn’t understand the impact it would have until later in life. Now I have young girls coming up to me and saying, ‘you inspire me.’ I never imagined it would affect so many people’s lives. I had no clue.”
Novelties don’t inspire. Genuine trailblazers, smart and courageous people do. And that’s exactly what Manon Rheaume was and is.
To read more about Rheaume’s NHL exhibition appearance, go to http://bit.ly/aSFVye