On this day 30 years ago, Manon Rheaume made history.
September 23, 2022 – Manon Rheaume is here in Southern California, preparing for her first training camp as a member of the LA Kings hockey operations staff. Rheaume was hired by the Kings over. the summer as a Hockey Operations/Prospect Advisor. The newest phase of her life lies with the Kings organization, working on player development and evaluation, specifically with the younger members of the organization.
September 23, 1992 – A very different situation for Manon Rheaume. On this day, the logo she wore was that of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and on her feet were skates rather than shoes. Rheaume made history, as she became the first woman to take part in an NHL preseason game. Rheaume started the game and played the first period with the then expansion Lightning, as she saved seven of the nine shots she faced and exited with a 2-2 tie on the scoreboard.
The stats are what they are, a footnote all these years later, but the uniqueness of what Rheaume did all those years back are what made the moment special. At the moment, it was just that. A moment. At that moment, Rheaume was just a goaltender, looking to tend goal as best as she could. It took her years to truly realize the magnitude of what she had achieved, and the impact that it had on so many.
“Absolutely not,” she said, when asked if she understood the impact her NHL debut would have on the hockey community. “30 years ago when I played in Tampa Bay, I was a young girl, 20 years old, getting this amazing opportunity to be paid to play to try out in the NHL. I didn’t know that it would change my life, but it totally changed my life. When I went to camp, I was just there to try to do my best and try to get as far as I could and it wasn’t until years later that I realized how big of a deal it was.”
The moment was 20 minutes on the clock, but the impact from it was much larger than your average NHL exhibition game. It was what came later that is truly what Rheaume took from what she did on that night 30 years prior.
It’s the hockey parents who have come up to her and told her about the impact she had on their daughter, who was trying to play herself. It’s the fellow members of the goaltending union, who saw Rheaume play and were inspired to play themselves. It’s for her children, who grew up playing in goal themselves. It’s the countless stories about what those 20 minutes did for others that really stuck out to Rheaume.
“When parents come up to me and said, you know you’re such an inspiration for my daughter, or my son did a project on you in school or even an NHL goalie that says to me, you know, when I saw you going to training camp, I told myself if she can do it, I can do it myself, too,” Rheaume said. “It really felt amazing to realize that my story impacted people in a positive way. And he’d become the most satisfying thing of everything I did in the hockey.”
Rheaume went on to play in another preseason game, the next season with Boston, but she will always be tied first and foremost to that debut with the Lightning, because she was the first to do something special. She also believes that her story has come a long way since she stepped on the ice back in 1992.
Back then, the only story she saw externally was linked to publicity, rather than merit. She believes that over time, the narrative has changed to recognize the fact that she had to hold her own during practices to get a look during the exhibition game.
“I think it changed a lot from back in 92,” she recalls. “I remember the way people talked about my story in 92 and the way they talk about it now, it’s a totally different story. All people were talking about [then] it was about her publicity, but nobody talks about the fact that I had to perform in training camp to earn the start in an exhibition game. Tampa Bay would have never put me in an exhibition game if I was terrible in training camp, but that wasn’t even relevant back then, they didn’t even care about that part of it. Today, if someone talks about this story, they’re going to talk more about that I had to perform to make it to an exhibition game and it felt really good to see that.”
It’s part of Rheaume’s experience from that first NHL training camp that she hopes she can relay onto some of the young players who are attending camp today, the hopeful LA Kings of the future.
Rheaume recalls her first day at Tampa Bay Lightning camp, with Phil Esposito leading a team meeting in the locker room the night before the first day of practice. She recalls walking through the room and seeing players she grew up watching in Quebec like Tony McKegney, who was 15 years her senior at the time.
She’s hopeful she can now use that experience to help younger players who might be in a similar situation, finding themselves walking into situations with Stanley Cup champions in Los Angeles.
“I had a moment of panic, thinking to myself ‘what am I doing here, do I have time to change my mind,'” she said with a laugh. “I was good after the next day, but that little moment of seeing a guy who played so many years in the NHL in the same room with you, it was overwhelming. I’m hoping to use that experience with some of those young players coming in here, I [know] how they feel and if I relate to them, I think that I can maybe help to manage feeling that way.”
Rheaume believes that her experience is just one of many when it comes to women working for NHL clubs on the hockey operations side.
With different ideas, a different approach, but a wealth of experience, she believes that her hire, along with many others around the NHL, is just a sign of things to come.
“I think one of the reasons that a lot of organizations right now are looking to hire women is to bring different ideas and a different approach, maybe a different way to communicate with people,” she said. “It’s not that one is better than the other, it’s just different and when you bring different ideas, that’s how you grow. Females who have been playing the game since they’re very young, they’ve been around the game, so I think it could be positive to find new ways to do things.”