On Sept. 23, 1992, Manon Rhéaume became the first woman to play in any of the major professional North American sports leagues when she appeared for a period in an exhibition game for the Tampa Bay Lightning against the St. Louis Blues.
On this 20th anniversary of her historic game, NHL.com takes a look back at one of hockey's most unforgettable moments through the eyes of people who lived it. Part 2: Rhéaume arrives at training camp.
Manon Rhéaume, Tampa Bay goaltender
"The first day of camp when we did the fitness testing was the most embarrassing moment because they lost my luggage, but people didn't know that. I had all this stuff that Reebok sent me to wear for the fitness testing, but I didn't have my luggage so I went to see Phil and he told me to go see his daughter. I went to see her and she gave me a pair of shorts, except she was probably a size 0 and I wasn't a size 0. They were jean shorts and I could barely fit in them, they were skin tight on me. And they had T-shirts made for the team that said 'Real men wear black.' So now I'm wearing a 'Real men wear black' T-shirt and skin-tight jean shorts showing up with dress shoes because I didn't have my running shoes for the fitness testing. Every time I introduced myself to someone, I had to tell them, 'They lost my luggage and this is what they gave me.' It was really embarrassing.
"I can just picture the guys hearing that a girl would be there, and she shows up dressed like that. I can only imagine the comments they had."
Basil McRae, Tampa Bay forward
"I think as players that were picked up in an expansion draft, the thought was, 'Is this good or is this bad? Is it good for the game, or is it that bad because we're that bad?' It was nothing against Manon, we thought it was great for her and it was awesome what she was doing. But I think as players, when you're picked up in an expansion draft, confidence is already kind of down, and now they're bringing in girls to try to fill out a team. So I think it was a little bit of mixed emotions for some us as far as the actual situation."
Danton Cole, Tampa Bay forward
"She did a great job and hung in there in a pretty tough spot. I think everyone was OK with it, more so because of how Manon handled it and how classy she was about the whole thing."
Marc Bergevin, Tampa Bay defenseman
"It was fun having her around. For me, I was one of the captains in Tampa and being French-Canadian I kind of talked to her quite a bit, and she handled herself very well. I played with her brother [NHL forward Pascal Rhéaume] later on in St. Louis, and I remember telling him that his sister did very well."
Pat Jablonski, Tampa Bay goaltender
"I was intrigued by her. When I found out that a girl was coming to training camp and she was a goalie, my first thought was, 'I better not get beat out by her.' I was impressed by the fact that she had to be pretty good to make it there. I was very interested to see how she played and how she handled it. She did great. She was a very small girl but she did a good job. She hung in there, she battled.
Brian Bradley, Tampa Bay forward
"At first I think it was a little bit of a surprise. Everybody wasn't exactly sure how to read it, that Manon was coming in for training camp. At first, everybody thought it was some PR that we were doing. I don't think all the veteran guys knew what was going on. They had heard about it, guys were snickering and so on. But when she came in, Manon was a really classy lady. She was well-liked. She was very good looking."
Cammy Clark, Lightning beat writer, St. Petersburg Times (currently with Miami Herald)
"There was debate whether she was the best female goalie out there, but obviously she was the prettiest goalie out there, and Phil Esposito is no dummy."
"One of the things when I grew up playing hockey that was really important to my mom when she allowed me to play hockey with the boys was that I stay a girl, that I stay feminine. She made sure that if all the boys were getting big hockey jackets that my grandma was knitting me a sweater that would match the team with a cute little hat that would match the team and that I was different than everybody else as far as the way I dressed. She wanted me to stay a girl, and it stuck with me. I've always been feminine -- even if I was playing a mostly male sport. That was important to me.
"I think people were writing about this because they were expecting a big girl, looking like a boy, walking like a boy, dressing like a boy and playing hockey like a boy. So because I wasn't like that, I think that's the reason why they were mentioning it. That's the No. 1 comment I get from someone when they find out I play hockey, 'You don't look like a hockey player.' So my response is, 'What should a hockey player look like?' So I hear that all the time, and I think it's from the stereotype that people expect a girl who plays hockey to look like a boy. So it's a surprise to find out I didn't look like a boy.
"In today's world, if you see the girls playing hockey, they get to the rink and they have their little pink outfit on, a ponytail, they paint their nails and they show up to the rink and play hockey like the boys. It's no longer a stereotype that you have to look like a boy to play hockey. But back then, because not that many girls were playing, it was almost like if you were a girl playing hockey you were a tomboy. That's maybe why people were making those comments in the media."
Kim St-Pierre, Canadian national women's team goaltender, who was 13 at time of Rhéaume's NHL appearance
"Growing up playing boys hockey, it wasn't always easy for me -- or my parents -- to always be the only girl. People were always saying I was stealing their son's job, or that I should be figure skating. There were so many people not getting used to the idea of girls playing hockey, but I played because I loved it and I was pretty good at it and my parents weren't worried about it. Where I grew up in Chateauguay [Quebec], it was not an issue; I was able to play with the boys. But everywhere else in the league -- and for the parents in the stands -- it was an issue. So when they see someone like Manon Rhéaume succeeding at a high level, not just because she was pretty but because she was actually good at it, I'm sure it opened the door for a lot of girls around the world that it was possible to succeed in hockey."
"We started the first day on the ice with some [intrasquad] games. We did a mini-tournament, so we were divided into four teams and we had no practice, we just went out there, did our warm-up and started playing a game. The first game that I played in that mini-tournament, every goaltender played one period, and I did not allow any goals in my period on 14 shots. I was under so much pressure for that first game it was like the adrenaline was so high that I had some kind of force helping me through this game.
"After I walked back into the locker room after that first period having allowed no goals … well, actually I didn't really have a locker room. I was in one of those smaller rooms with big mirrors everywhere they have for concerts. So I walked in there, took my helmet off and looked in the mirror and said to myself, 'I can't believe it.' I had the biggest smile on my face. It was just such a great feeling, because I knew that first day I stepped on the ice was so important. It was important for me to send a message, it was important for me personally because I was against all odds that day.
"As soon as I took my helmet off, I remember Phil Esposito saying to me, 'Hurry up, the media are there, we have a press conference.' So I'm trying to hurry up, but at the same time I was just so excited by this performance.
"So I go to the press conference and one of the questions was, 'Are we going to see her in a game?' Never in a million years would I have thought that. When I got invited there, I thought I would be like any rookie and that I would be there for the first week and I would leave when the exhibitions started. That's what I thought it would be. So when they asked that question and Phil said, 'The way she played today, you may see her in a game,' my legs started shaking like crazy. I couldn't believe he said something like that! But I had to play along and smile and pretend it didn't bother me, but I was freaking out.
"The funny thing is that I started thinking, 'What am I going to wear? I don't have anything here!' All those guys had suits and ties, but I didn't plan to dress to go for a real game the way those guys were. So I was panicking about that! First of all, I have to play in a game, but second of all I don't have enough clothes here to stay more than a week!"
Terry Crisp, Tampa Bay coach
"Looking back on it, it was one of the best moves we made. First off, publicity-wise, they were talking about us in China, Sweden … you name it, they were talking about our hockey club, which was great. And then when Manon came in, she could actually play. She wasn't just a fill-in. I think we had six goalies that year, and she was probably in the top three."
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