Woman reaches goal, plays in NHL goal Rheaume makes start in Tampa Bay exhibition

September 24, 1992|By Jeff Babineau | Jeff Babineau,Orlando Sentinel

TAMPA, Fla. -- She hit the ice, conquered a few shots an along the way, Manon Rheaume made history last night.

Rheaume became the first female to play in a men's major professional sports league -- the NFL, NBA, NHL and major-league baseball -- starting in goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

By crashing what had been an exclusively male fraternity for the past 75 years, Rheaume delighted a partisan crowd of 8,223 at Expo Hall.

The Lightning (2-1-1) lost to St. Louis, 6-4, but it was no fault of Rheaume's. She left 20 minutes of action just as she had started it -- with the score deadlocked.

Rheaume, 20, faced nine shots and turned aside seven, turning in what coaches termed a steady performance as the Lightning and Blues skated to a 2-2 opening-period tie. She allowed one bad goal -- a long slap shot by St. Louis' Jeff Brown that slipped through her pads -- but later atoned with a spectacular glove save on Nelson Emerson, robbing the Blues of a goal.

Lightning president and general manager Phil Esposito announced afterward he will speak to Rheaume's agent about signing her to a contract today, adding "I want her to be in our organization for a long time."

Once signed -- she said she welcomes the opportunity -- she will be assigned to the Atlanta Knights of the International Hockey League, the Lightning's top farm club.

Rheaume, who has been a goaltender since she was 5, said she stayed so focused on trying to stop the puck that she didn't allow herself to think about it being an NHL game.

"If I didn't come here to try, I don't know what I can do," said Rheaume, who is from Quebec and speaks English as a second language. "For me, hockey is a passion. And when you have this passion, you want to go higher.

"After the period, when you think it's an NHL game, then sure, it's great. Now I feel better."

Tampa Bay's Basil McRae was called for a high-sticking penalty just 16 seconds into the game, and St. Louis immediately went on the power play, allowing Rheaume little time to settle in. She stopped the first three shots she faced, two of them hard slap shots from the point by Lee Norwood.

Brown then put St. Louis on top, 1-0, letting loose with a slap shot just inside the blue line.

"It was a bad goal," she said, "but every goaltender can have those. When you have a bad goal, it is good to forget."

Jacques Campeau, the Lightning scout who scours Quebec for talent and brought Rheaume to the attention of Esposito, wore a smile as big as a goal crease as he walked through the concourse after Rheaume's performance.

"I think I was more nervous than she was," Esposito said. "Not bad, eh? I thought she did very well under the circumstances," Esposito said. "I remember my first NHL game, and I don't know how she did it. I was more nervous for her than she was for herself. She handled it beautifully."

Rheaume, who helped the Canadian women's national team to a first-place finish in the 1992 World Championships, believes her performance in practice and intrasquad games proved she belongs.

"I mean, I can skate. I can stop a puck. I haven't been an embarrassment," she said.

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