Manon Rhéaume is a true sports legend, hockey role model, and humble pioneer for women around the world as tomorrow is the 29-year anniversary of making history as the first and only woman to play a game in the NHL with Tampa Bay. This trailblazing feat occurred before the societal push towards equality for females in sport, before improving mental health became a real issue, and before social media bullying and trolling were even a thought. She is indeed “The First Woman of Hockey™ after Manon became the initial female to sign a contract to play professional hockey as a goalie with the Lightning. Rhéaume was also a goaltender for Team Canada winning a Silver Medal at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games in 1998, the first-time women’s hockey was officially included in the Olympics as a sport. Her minor league career spanned six-years with a brief stint here in the States with the Atlanta Knights. The Sports Techie community blog was honored to chat with Rhéaume about her compelling story, inspiring life journey and current goals. It was fun to let her know my favorite team as a kid was the Montreal Canadians led by Guy Lafluer, Guy Lapointe, Larry Robinson, and Ken Dryden in the goal, players she knew so well having grown up in Canada when they played in her province. Her brother Pascal Rhéaume, is a former pro hockey player himself while Manon’s Dad was a long-time coach. Manon is credited as the first women to play in any of the North American professional sports leagues, and that true story is worth telling, remembering and funding.
The facts are Manon influenced countless young girls and women across North America and the globe as she did for both NHL aspiring boys and men already in the league, by just being herself, a true lover of the game. Manon made her career dream come true with the support of family and others that believed in her like hockey Hall-of-Famer, 19-year, legendary NHL goalie, and Lightning General Manager from 1991- 1998, Phil Esposito. Phil founded the expansion franchise and they began play during the 1992-93 season, the same year Manon made her debut. She did so despite the long odds a teenage girl from the Canadian province of Québec, with little English-speaking abilities, faced as a goalie in a male dominated sport. Because of her goal setting, skill sets and perseverance playing a sport she grew up loving, Rhéaume was the first female to ever play in the Quebec International Pee Wee Tournament resulting in a change of long-standing rules allowing her to play.
Fast forward to several years ago when Garry Marshall and Penny Marshall were both executive producers before their passing of a scripted feature film in the works about Manon’s courageous story called, “Between the Pipes” (BTP). Garry particularly loved this story and championed Angie Bullaro in the role of Manon. The movie producers are looking for corporate sponsorship to help tell Manon’s amazing story. Whether this becomes a Disney feel-good story for the ages, or a Netflix documentary, or one of Amazon Prime’s well told documentaries, all generations will finally have a film depicting her courage, skills, determination, and proper place in history as a female professional hockey player, breaking down existing barriers like it was just another slap shot to stop. Bravo, Ms. Rhéaume, bravo.
Between The Pipes But Not Alone
Manon currently handles remote broadcasting for RDS broadcasting and is a keynote speaker. She also helps to run the Red Wings’ girls hockey league while coaching the Detroit Little Caesar’s under-12 girls hockey team. Her own Manon Rhéaume Foundation founded in 2008 gave away scholarships and led her to her current role.
I asked how different if was for girls today than it was for her back in the 70s and 80s. She said, “Young girls have different times, only playing with the boys is so much easier now, more accepted, there are more teams, Olympic dreams, college scholarships. The biggest challenge is boys dream to play in NHL, girls have the WNBA in basketball to look up to. Women’s pro hockey is trying to open the door, it is not quite there yet, hard to make a living and play professionally, players have to work two jobs. Doing something they love; it is going in that direction but it takes time.”
The NHL is in full support of the movie project and has offered assistance in any way they can including introductions to players and sponsors and promise to give the film official licensing rights.
Bullaro will play Manon and wrote the script for “Between The Pipes” as well as writing the children’s picture book “Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League.” It was released by Simon and Schuster in October and illustrated by C. F. Payne. It is an Amazon Bestseller in Children’s books.
Legendary indie filmmaker Maggie Greenwald [Songcatcher and The Ballad of Little Jo] is onboard as the film’s director. Maggie is known as one of the first prominent female indie directors. She loved Manon’s story because it so closely mirrored her own journey as a female in a male dominated industry. Heather Hall, Garry Marshall’s longtime right hand producer, stayed on as a lead producer after his passing. Scott Marshall, the son of Garry is executive producer of BTP.
Quebec City recently unveiled a statue of Manon in front of their new arena, it commemorates Rhéaume’s extraordinary career and her groundbreaking entry as the first girl to play in the International Pee Wee Tournament.
Back in 1992 on September 23, Manon stepped onto the ice in an exhibition match against the St. Louis Blues and was suddenly all alone with all her emotions playing a sport she loved with men that were faster, stronger and more experienced. It did not deter her from, “Preparation, team work and having butterflies.”
As the first women to break barriers, Manon emphasized the pressure she felt, “To get on a team, to play hockey with pressure, even to interview with Phil, he was so nervous for her to perform that day.”
I asked her if she had her own locker room and yes, she did. The moment was described as, “different.” In terms of the state of her mental health at that time, she said, “I was being quiet, keeping emotion inside of me. The first time in training camp, I felt a certain way. I saw a picture (taken) of that day, and I can feel it (emotion) to this day. For one period, there were two goalies on each team, I allowed no goals in 14 shots, the only keeper to not allow a goal.”
She further shared how the first day was crucial because there was lots of media and the players were watching. While walking back to locker room with all the lights and mirrors in the locker room, Manon took off her helmet and looked at herself in a mirror. Rhéaume thought, “Wow,” smiling big from ear-to-ear. She did her best to explain how it was, “the coolest moment, or experience,” but until you walk that walk, which no female had done before or since, it’s hard to really relate to her personal feelings but it is not hard to get goose bumps like I did as she spoke with pride while talking English with a French accent.
Imagine if social media platforms were around three decades ago. Besides all the supportive tweets and posts, there would be a fair or even large amount of negativity in the form of tweet bullying, harassment and even hate towards Manon, Phil and any supporters. It is standard quo for today’s modern athletes to endure. Why Twitter and Facebook don’t hammer down on this is truly disgusting to have watched in the 11-years of tweeting and posting. Jack and Mark Zuckerberg can stop it and simply do not because growth is the driving force, and now engagement, no matter how fake, hurtful and full of misinformation, each post has or comment is.
Manon obviously and her word, “thankful” did not have to undergo such social media foulness. She mentioned how back then, you could read about her achievement in the newspapers. I was a former Seattle Times paperboy and remember those non-digital days fondly.
Thankfully, fake accounts, burner handles and bots did not attack her for breaking down existing barriers 29 years ago in the NHL. Hopefully, when the movie comes out, she will be prepared for that kind of response on such a feel-good, groundbreaking, true story.
Sports Techie, ice hockey is similar to lacrosse, the fastest game on two-feet, a sport I played at Redmond High School, Whittier College and Western Washington University, and as an adult. ESPN and Turner Sports won the 2021-22 NHL broadcast rights shifting the game towards more recognition leading the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, to enter the booth as a broadcaster (he was also a talented lax player). Manon mentioned Luc Robitaille, NHL Hall of Famer as a supporter of BTP, and she said Mark Messier is another former All-Star back in the public eye promoting hockey.
Manon said that hockey, “has been her life” all the way back to when she was a girl. Life as a women and Mother for her consists of working in the sport, moving along the movie project and raising money.
If you are a sponsor, this film is truly a no-brainer to get involved with so just do it.
When asked when the best date would be to release the hockey movie, her reply was, “The 30-year anniversary next year would be nice.”
Make it so on September 23, 2022.
See you later sportstechie in Seattle, Atlanta and around the world!
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