Scoring goals came as naturally to Manon Rheaume as breathing.
She didn’t plan to be the only girl on her youth teams, the first girl to play in the famous Quebec International Pee Wee tournament and the first girl to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. In the 1980s and 1990s there weren’t many opportunities for girls to play hockey. She had to compete against boys if she wanted to play at all, and she was determined to play.
She also had no plans to make history, but she couldn’t say no when the Tampa Bay Lightning expansion invited her to their training camp after helping Canada win gold at the 1992 Women’s World Cup. She played a period of an exhibition for Tampa Bay against St. Louis on September 23, 1992, becoming the first – and still only – woman to draft for an NHL game.
“I never thought I would even play in the NHL. It wasn’t even a dream of mine,” said Rheaume, who contested an exhibition streak against Boston a year later and spent several seasons playing in smaller men’s leagues. “I stumbled upon this by accident.”
Thirty years later she made it to the NHL. Not in uniform, but as a member of the Kings’ player development department, one of many accomplished women hired for significant roles on NHL teams in recent years. Rheaume, mother of hockey-playing sons Dylan St. Cyr, 23, and Dakoda Rheaume-Mullen, 15, joins a team that includes scout Blake Bolden, the first black woman to play in the now-defunct National Women’s Hockey League .
It’s not like teams and leagues are being “woken up.” They belatedly realized that welcoming women into their stale, restricted Old Boys Club adds knowledge, perspective and experiences that can invigorate the sport.
Rheaume’s sons had attended summer camps in Los Angeles, and she knew Kings President Luc Robitaille through charity work and mutual friends. Their conversations took a serious turn when she explained that she wanted to work for a team after years of organizing successful girls’ hockey programs in Michigan and doing analysis for RDS, a French-language television station in Canada.
Robaille recognized a fit. “Personally, like Blake Bolden, I think these girls are high achievers. They work really hard, and when you bring them into your organization, they bring that attitude,” he said. “It’s amazing to see. For me it is of enormous value.
“Manon, with her background and how much work she has had to put in and battle against adversity to reach her level, there is certainly a lot that could be taught to these young players.”
Rheaume, 50, will not replace goalkeeping guru Bill Ranford. Its title is Player Operations/Prospect Advisor. She observed the Kings’ prospects during training camp and forged relationships which she will cement by visiting them when they are with their youth team. She also attended a Special Olympics ball hockey clinic, and Robitaille plans to feature her at community and women’s hockey events this season.
Working with the Kings’ young players is ideal for Rheaume, who knew many of them from tournaments her sons played in.
“It’s really about meeting our draft picks and getting to know them and seeing if I can see or feel anything about those players. More like a mother,” she said. “Having two children who play, I know that if something goes wrong, they will call me. I don’t know if it’s easier to talk to me than to her father. I feel like I bring that side of it with me.”
She could never have imagined having this job because there were no women in positions of responsibility in hockey. But just as she inspired little girls – and little boys – to follow their dreams, she can now inspire them to look beyond the rink to careers in football.
She’s in good company. The Vancouver Canucks employ two female assistant general managers, Hockey Hall of Famer Cammi Granato and former college player Emilie Castonguay. US Olympian Outstanding Meghan Duggan is the director of player development for the New Jersey Devils, where Kate Madigan is the assistant GM. Meghan Hunter is the assistant GM of the Chicago Blackhawks, who hired Kendall Coyne Schofield as their player development coach. Canadian Hall of Famer and medical graduate Hayley Wickenheiser is the assistant GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Alexandra Mandrycky, a Data Specialist, is Deputy GM of the Seattle Kraken.
“All of these women who have played at a high level can contribute to an NHL team in other ways with their ideas and knowledge of the game, even if they don’t make it to the NHL,” Rheaume said.
Could a woman play in the NHL? Coyne Schofield and others excelled in skill competitions at NHL All-Star Weekend, but they had no defenders when they competed. “You are very competent. Let’s say we put that in a body checking situation — it’s a little bit different,” Rheaume said.
“You can ask me, could I have played in the NHL back then? Going through a training camp is one thing. After being exposed to these recordings for a whole year, I had bruises all over after a week. Physically, I didn’t have the same strength as a possessed man.
“But I can’t say a woman could never play there because you never know. You could have a woman who is super strong, super fast, or a goalkeeper who is tall and very agile and can play at that level. No one thought I would make it at camp so I would never say no.”
Because she said no to those who doubted her so many years ago, other women have had the opportunity to say yes to important roles in a game that may not be for everyone unless everyone has a say in his presence let his future come.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/hockey/story/2022-10-05/column-nhl-woman-goalie-manon-rheaume Manon Rheaume, first woman to play NHL period, starts anew with Kings