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Rheaume, Manon (1972—)

Rheaume, Manon (1972—)

Canadian professional ice hockey player. Pronunciation: MAY-nohn RAY-ohm. Born in Lac Beauport, Quebec, Canada, on February 24, 1972; married Gerry St. Cyr (a Canadian roller-hockey player); children: one son.

As goaltender, helped Canadian national women's hockey team win gold medal at world championships (1992, 1994); became the first woman to play in the National Hockey League (NHL), as goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning (1992); won a silver medal at the Olympics as part of Canada's first women's ice hockey team (1998); retired from Canadian national team (2000) but continued to play professionally in the National Women's Hockey League.

One of the biggest stars of Canadian women's ice hockey and the first woman to play in a National Hockey League game, Manon Rheaume was born in 1972 in Lac Beauport, a suburb of Quebec City in Quebec, Canada. With her two brothers, Martin and Pascal, she was raised in Lac Beauport where their father Pierre managed an outdoor ice rink and coached a boys' hockey team. Rheaume and her brothers were involved in ice skating early on; soon after learning to walk, she learned to skate and by age four was adept at it. As a youngster, Rheaume often watched her brothers play hockey at the rink, and she would join in when they arrived home to play on the makeshift pond her father had made by flooding the backyard. Her other activities, including ballet and skiing, fell by the wayside in favor of her love of hockey. Soon, she was concentrating on goaltending.

Throughout her school years, she played on boys' teams and on youth leagues, and at age 11 became the first girl to play in an International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament. After graduating from high school, Rheaume played on women's hockey teams in Montreal. She also played on Canada's men's Junior B league and, for a short time, on the Junior A level, which is just one step down from the NHL. She recounted to People magazine a Junior A game in which players were trying to scare her with high shots, and she ended up with a three-inch gash above her eyebrow. Regardless of the blood running down her face, Rheaume kept playing: "I didn't want anyone to say I stopped because I was a girl," she said. She was a star on the women's hockey scene, helping the Canadian national women's team win a gold medal at the World championships in Finland in 1992. As goaltender, she gave up only two goals in three games, and was voted Most Valuable Player.

Also in 1992 Rheaume made history when she tended goal in an exhibition game for the Tampa Bay Lightning, a men's team. It was the first time a woman had played in the NHL, and the first time a woman had seen action in any major professional team sport. After the exhibition game, in which she gave up two goals and made seven saves during the first period, she was given a three-year contract and sent to play for the Atlanta Knights, a minor-league franchise of the Lightning. She noted: "I'm happy to be with Atlanta because I have a good chance to get experience, to learn more. I didn't try to be the first woman to do this, I just want to play." Nonetheless, there were many in the sports world who saw the exposition game and her contract as a cynical publicity stunt (a charge implicitly accepted by the Lightning's general manager, who was quoted as saying he would sign a horse if it could play on skates). Playboy magazine offered Rheaume $50,000 to pose nude, which she declined. In December 1992, she played with the Knights in a regular-season game against the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, thus becoming the first woman to play in a regular-season professional hockey game. She later played for a number of other teams, including the Knoxville Cherokees and the Las Vegas Thunder, as well as teams in the Roller Hockey League International.

Rheaume won a second gold medal in the World championships with the Canadian women's hockey team in 1994, and again was voted the team's Most Valuable Player. In 1998, she played with the Canadian women's hockey team at the Nagano Winter Olympics, winning a silver medal. (See Team USA: Women's Ice Hockey at Nagano.) Rheaume announced her retirement from the Canadian women's hockey team in 2000, although she continued playing as a forward on a part-time basis with the Montreal Wingstars, part of the highest-level competitive women's hockey league in Canada. Married to a roller-hockey player, she now works as the head of global marketing for women's hockey at a hockey equipment and accessories manufacturer.

sources:

Johnson, Anne Janette. Great Women in Sports. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink, 1998.

Kari Bethel , freelance writer, Columbia, Missouri

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