I scoffed and probably snorted too.
“A woman playing hockey?” I thought to myself, followed by a classic “Pffffft”. Funny, coming from a girl who had just signed up for her first hockey league to play on an all male team right?
Now, back in the day, we had MSG, ESPN and Newsday. Those were my only sources of hockey information. No internet access, no Twitter, and no Google. How the heck did we ever come out of the early 90’s alive? So I waited. I was curious. I wanted to see how she did. After all, she was only playing goalie. I carried on my day as usual that day, came home from school, flipped on ESPN and waited.
I don’t remember the exact coverage that ESPN had on Rheaume at that time, but I’m sure it was far better than any NHL coverage they currently have today. I believe they did show snippets or something of her one period manning (or womanning) of the pipes. I was amazed. She showed such poise, such confidence. After watching a few more minutes of ESPN, I went to bed. The next day was the first day of hockey practice.
As my mom rolled up to the rink in her tiny Mitsubishi sedan, I remember how excited I was. My hands were clenched around the handles of my large equipment bag. I could not wait to get out of the car. As she stopped, I wasted little time opening the car door and sprinting to the doors. I opened them and was ushered to a row of folding chairs where I sat and watched as boy upon boy piled in the room. There were a few girls spread out here and there, but my team was all guys. That scared me. I was not a confident person. And playing with all guys, many of whom had a significant height advantage on me, was daunting. But then I thought back to yesterday and sat up a little straighter in my chair.
After we all settled in, there came the million dollar question.
“What position do you play?”
Apparently I was equally as suave and good with words then as I am now. “Goalie”, raced thru my mind. It was a natural choice, given that I was on the heftier side. After all, I could literally cover more net, and wouldn’t have to move too much. Win-Win situation right there. But the thought of galvanized rubber being shot at my face with only some metal caging between me and said puck scared the bejeebus out of me. So I muttered out…
“Right wing” which was followed by a cringe.
I spent many years playing right wing. Ice hockey, roller hockey, dek hockey. It didn’t matter. I enjoyed it. I still cringe though, every time a goalie takes a puck to the mask and think to myself that I made the right decision.
So, you’re probably wondering what Manon Rheaume had to do with all of this, especially since I don't play goalie. Well, I’ll tell you. She made me realize that I too, could play hockey with guys. Granted, it was no where near the same level. I remember following her in the papers, and on ESPN, but the coverage was minimal at best. It wasn’t until we got internet in the late 90’s that I actually began to look her up and learn more about her. By this time, I had a few seasons of hockey behind me, and I probably wouldn’t have played for so long had it not been for her. She broke the mold in the NHL. And I like mold-breakers.
While she only suited up for 26 games in her career with sub par numbers, she left a mark on many female hockey players of the early 90s, myself included. She made us all aware that you can be a girl and still play hockey. In 2008, she founded the ManonRheaumeFoundation in effort to encourage girls and women to play hockey. She even has a scholarship for girls under 19. Its great to see the encouragement of girls playing hockey, when it used to be seen as a 'men's only' sport.