After the Game Changers series debuted on DetroitRedWings.com for Black History Month, the club is dedicating the month of March to recognizing trailblazing women who are supporting a positive future for children in the community.
The first Game Changers honoree in March is the trademarked First Woman of Hockey™ and Little Caesars AAA Hockey girls program director, Manon Rhéaume.
[Learn more about Women's History Month at DetroitRedWings.com/Equality]
On September 23, 1992 at the age of 20, Rhéaume made history when she played goalie in an exhibition game for the Tampa Bay Lightning, becoming the first woman to ever play in the NHL and the first woman to compete in any major North American professional sports league.
Rhéaume said she didn't consider how impactful her NHL appearance was at the time, but she quickly realized what an inspiration she had become.
"One of the most satisfying things is that I was able to inspire people with my story," Rhéaume said. "I didn't realize it when I went to Tampa Bay, because I was just trying to play at the highest level. But later, fans would come to me and say I'm such an inspiration for their daughters. That's when I realized my story had an impact on people.
"When I experienced that in Tampa Bay and my story got out, girls knew they had a chance of doing the same thing I did."
Rhéaume's appearance for the Lightning was just the beginning of her trailblazing journey.
She also won gold medals for Team Canada in the 1992 and 1994 IIHF Women's World Championships and she won a silver medal in the 1998 Winter Olympics -- the first time that women's hockey was featured in the Olympic Games.
In 1999, Rhéaume was hired by Mission Hockey as head of global marketing for women's hockey, where she helped develop hockey skates for women. She went on to create the Manon Rhéaume Foundation in 2008, which provides scholarships for young women and donates to the Detroit Red Wings Foundation to continue to help young girls participate in hockey.
Red Wings and Tigers director of community impact Kevin Brown said Rhéaume is the perfect candidate to kick off the Women's History Month edition of the Game Changers series.
"Manon Rhéaume embodies the true spirit of a Game Changer when it comes to creating access and opportunities for young women through the game of hockey," Brown said. "We know that if you see it, you can be it, and Manon is a shining example and leader for girls and women in our community."
Rhéaume echoed Brown's sentiment about the importance of representation and how impactful it is for girls and women to see their peers succeed at a high level.
"When you see, you can believe," Rhéaume said. "When I started playing hockey, I was the only girl with a bunch of boys, and I had nobody to look up to, to have a dream to make it to the highest level. I never saw a woman play at a high level, so I never dreamt of playing in the NHL. I just played hockey because I loved the game.
"I think that's the most satisfying thing, when you know your story impacted someone in a positive way and gave them a chance to follow their dreams."
In 2016, the Lac-Beauport, Quebec native moved to Michigan to become the girls program coordinator for the Detroit-based Little Caesars AAA Hockey League.
Since joining the organization, Rhéaume has worked tirelessly to unite girls' teams within the program into a cohesive unit and develop the program into a powerhouse.
"I wanted to change the way AAA hockey was viewed and really work as an organization instead of just each team working individually," she said. "So we have a plan throughout the organization for how we want to develop the kids, and all the coaches work together."
In addition to Rhéaume's duties as girls program director, the Northville resident is also the head coach of Little Caesars' 12U girls team, and just like everything she's done in life, Rhéaume has a highly successful coaching resumé.
She's won four straight 12U state titles and half the players on the nationally ranked 16U team which she coached in 2016 have committed to play Division 1 college hockey.
Rhéaume said coaching her team and building the girls program are perfect complements to her passion for teaching and growing the game for young women.
"When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher. Being able to combine my love of teaching and giving back to the game is an absolute joy," Rhéaume said. "Being able to bring the life lessons I learned in hockey to young girls was really important, and it's been amazing to see the young girls starting at age 12 and growing through our program."
As if she wasn't busy enough building a powerhouse girls hockey program, Rhéaume is also a public speaker, making weekly appearances on the French-language TV network, RDS, and she's also an active hockey mom, with 21-year-old son Dylan playing goalie at Notre Dame, and 14-year-old Dakoda playing for Bantam Triple-A in Michigan.
The multi-talented goalie, hockey mom, businesswoman and trailblazing pioneer said being recognized as a Red Wings Game Changer is an incredible accolade.
"It's a tremendous honor," Rhéaume said. "Detroit is called Hockeytown for a reason. The Red Wings have a such a huge impact on hockey in Michigan, and Michigan is such a great place for youth hockey because of the Red Wings. To be recognized by such a great organization is a huge honor."
Rhéaume said the Game Changers series is an impactful initiative that will help shine a light on stories of attainable women's success at the highest level.
"When people see stories that a woman does something great, that's when they can believe," she said. "I look back at 1998 when women's hockey was in the Olympics for the first time, the growth of women's hockey everywhere in the world was absolutely amazing. It practically doubled in four years. Because young girls could see it and could accomplish it, so the fact that the Red Wings are doing this program, I think it's crucial."
Rhéaume's life story became even more amplified last October when a book about her journey called Breaking the Ice, was written by Angie Bullaro. There is also a feature film in the works called "Between the Pipes," with Bullaro set to play Rhéaume, but the trailblazer remains focused on the goal she's had since the late 90s--giving young girls a chance to dream.
"Just building a program where girls can learn those amazing life lessons, give them a chance to play college hockey, a chance to dream of playing professional hockey," Rhéaume said about her plans for the future. "It's so important for young girls to participate in team sports. A lot of successful women played sports when they were younger because you learn so much, like leadership and confidence.
"Two things that we always talk to our girls about is work ethic and respect, because those are two things you can control. Those two things can take you far in life."
For more information on the Little Caesars AAA Hockey League, visit LCH.LittleCaesarsHockey.com/AAAHockey and to learn more about the Manon Rhéaume Foundation, visit ManonRheaume33.com.