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On This Date in Sports September 23, 1992: Manon Rheaume

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play in a major professional sports league when she took the ice and played goalie for the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning in a preseason game against the St. Louis Blues. Rheaume led her team onto the ice as they played their first home game at Expo Hall. Manon would play just one period, stopping seven of nine shots, and left with the game tied 2-2.

Manon Rheaume was born on February 24, 1972, in Beauport, Quebec. Like many children in Quebec, Rheaume excelled under the goalie pads. As women’s hockey beginning its first international tournaments, Rheaume was one of Canada’s brightest stars. Soon she was given a chance to play with the boys, as she signed to play with the Trois-Rivieres Draveurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League; she would later become the first woman to play in the men’s junior hockey league game.

When the NHL season was starting, Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Phil Esposito was looking to create some extra publicity for his first-year team. The Lightning were the first NHL team to play in Florida, and signing a woman to play goalie was seen as key in exposing new fans in Tampa to the NHL. The move worked, as Manon Rheaume became an early face of the NHL’s newest team. After her one preseason appearance, Manon Rheaume signed with the Atlanta Knights of the International Hockey League. The Knights were the top farm team of the expansion Lightning, appearing in two regular-season games.

After her first year playing with the men, Manon Rheaume appeared in a second in a preseason game with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1993 against the Boston Bruins. While she never appeared in an official NHL game, Manon Rheaume played for several minor league teams over five years, posting a respectable record of 7-6-1. The teams that Rheaume played for were the Knoxville Cherokees and Nashville Knights of the ECHL in the 1993/94 season. A year later, she played with the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks of the ECHL and the Las Vegas Thunder of the IHL. Manon Rheaume’s final minor league appearances would come during the 1996/97 season when she played in 11 games with the Reno Renegades of the WCHL.

During this time, Manon Rheaume also appeared in the short-lived summer league, using inline roller skates called Roller Hockey International, playing with the New Jersey Rockin’ Rollers, Ottawa Loggers, and Sacramento River Rats.

In 1998, when Women’s Hockey made its debut in the Olympics, Manon Rheaume left behind her efforts to play with men and was the starting goalie for Team Canada in Nagano, Japan. Canada entered the games as an overwhelming favorite to win the Gold Medal. However, she and her teammates would settle for a Silver Medal when they lost to Team USA 2-1 as Sarah Tuteting outplayed her in the finals. Rheaume retired following the games but has remained close to the sport of hockey ever since.