Manon Rhéaume was born and raised in Lac-Beauport, Québec, the daughter of Nicole and Pierre Rhéaume, who operated a construction business in nearby Québec City. Both her father and mother were athletic; Pierre was a hockey fan and horseback rider, and Nicole a swimmer and downhill skier. Manon was the middle of three children with older brother Martin (born 1970) and younger brother Pascal (born 1973). Pascal would also become a serious hockey player, going on to play 318 games in the NHL.
At the time, Lac-Beauport was a proud skiing community. However, it did not have a hockey rink until Pierre decided to construct an outdoor rink, himself — before eldest child Martin was even old enough to play. Pierre took great pleasure in teaching children how to skate, and became the town’s hockey coach and league organizer.
When Martin first started playing hockey, he was seven years old. As coach, Pierre also allowed Pascal to join the team, even though he was only four at the time. Being a girl, Manon was not at first allowed to play, although she had been skating since age three and had been playing with her brothers for two years. The boys had stuck their sister in net during practices and in ball hockey games on the street and in the basement. She had already spent hours trying to stop their shots.
Playing with the Boys
As coach, Pierre concentrated first on training the players as skaters, and then working on their puck-handling skills. His emphasis was on skills training rather than scrimmaging. Because of this focus, no one on the team trained to play in goal. Therefore, when the Lac-Beauport team began entering tournaments, they lacked a goaltender. Five-year-old Manon convinced her dad to let her play — her white figure skates the only indication that a girl was playing in goal.
Manon was both tough and talented. Despite opposition from some officials and parents, she continued to play hockey with the boys. When she reached the Atom division, she signed up for a summer hockey camp. Although camp officials assumed she wanted to sign up for ringette, she stood her ground and trained with the boys, leaving the camp with greatly improved skills. While some adults continued to question her ability (and the appropriateness of a young girl playing hockey), her teammates were generally supportive and in 1983, Manon helped her team win a championship.
After graduating from Atom hockey, Manon tried out for the Peewee AA team, but was cut. Both she and her father believed it was because she was a girl. Undeterred, Manon played a lower level of Peewee hockey (CC) and was a standout. Her team placed first in the region, allowing Manon to achieve her dream of playing in the world-famous Québec International Peewee Tournament. By doing so, she became the first girl to participate in the tournament’s 25-year history.
In 1986, Manon played Bantam AA under coach Pierre Brind’Amour, a former Québec Nordiques player. During the first year, she played regularly, but in year two, she began playing less and less. The coach was under tremendous pressure from other parents (including the league director) to let boys play in her place. Many believed that by letting her play, the coach was taking away a boy’s chance to advance to Midget, Junior and the professional leagues.
As a result, Manon ended up playing Midget CC in 1988, where she felt the boys seemed more interested in partying than playing hockey. In February 1989, the week she turned 17, she quit the sport, convinced that her career in hockey was over. In her words, “I lost my spirit.”
Playing with the Women
A year later, after having played no sports at all, Rhéaume was invited to a hockey camp specifically for women. She ended up joining a team in Sherbrooke, even though it meant travelling two and a half hours each way for practices and games. At the end of the 1990–91 season, the team won the provincial championship and finished second at the national championships.
During the same period, there was international discussion about women’s hockey becoming an official sport at the Olympic Winter Games. Rhéaume had found her spirit and a new goal to pursue; she wanted to represent Canada at the Olympics.
In 1992, Rhéaume’s Sherbrooke team won another provincial championship as well as a bronze medal at the national championships. She was also named to the Canadian national women’s team for the 1992 world championships in Finland.
1992 World Champion
Rhéaume made her international debut in 1992 at the IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships in Tampere, Finland, rotating with goaltender Marie-Claude Roy until the semifinals, when she played in goal full-time. In the gold-medal game, Rhéaume posted a shutout, helping Canada win 8–0 against the United States. The tournament’s top goaltender, she was selected to the 1992 All-Star team along with fellow Canadians Angela James and Geraldine Heaney.
First Woman to Play in QMJHL
Rhéaume also resumed training and playing in men’s leagues. In 1991, she began practising with the Trois-Rivières Draveurs of the Québec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Her younger brother, Pascal, had been signed to the Draveurs that year, and head coach Gaston Drapeau offered her the chance to practise with the team as well.
Before the 1991–92 season began, Rhéaume was chosen to play goal with the Louiseville Jaguars in the Tier-2 (Junior A) league, and to take on the role of third-string goalie for the Trois-Rivières Draveurs. In November 1991, the Draveurs needed an emergency goaltender, as first goalie and future NHLer Jean-Francois Labbé had suffered an injury. For the first two games, Rhéaume sat on the bench as another future NHLer, Jocelyn Thibault, played. However, Thibault had a bad game on 26 November 1991 and was replaced by Rhéaume in the second period. She allowed three goals in 17 minutes before leaving the game with a cut to her face from a puck. Although it was her first and last appearance in Major Junior hockey, she quickly became a media sensation as the first woman to play in the QMJHL.
First Woman to Play in NHL
In the summer of 1992, following Rhéaume’s gold-medal win at the IIHF Women’s World Championships, Phil Esposito of the Tampa Bay Lightning invited her to attend training camp as one of eight goaltenders trying out for the team. The Lightning was a new NHL expansion team in a non-traditional hockey market, so the whole tryout was widely viewed as little more than a publicity stunt.
Yet Rhéaume survived the first round of cuts, and was given the first period of a pre-season exhibition match against the St. Louis Blues. She allowed two goals on nine shots, becoming the first woman to play in a National Hockey League game. She also became the first woman to appear in any of North America’s major professional sports leagues.
The appearance led to significant publicity, including many international media requests. She appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, and was offered $50,000 for an interview and photo shoot with Playboy (which she turned down).
Professional Minor League Hockey
Rhéaume was let go from the Tampa Bay Lightning, but was signed to a three-year contract with its farm team, the Atlanta Knights of the International Hockey League, as their third and emergency goalie. She played in two games with the Knights that season. Her first game came on 13 December 1992 against the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles, in which she allowed one goal on four shots over the course of a planned five-minute appearance. On 10 April 1993, Rhéaume played a full game against the Cincinnati Cyclones, allowing six goals on 31 shots (the Knights lost 8–6 to the Cyclones, including two empty-net goals).
Over five seasons (1992–97), Rhéaume played 24 games in men’s professional minor league hockey, taking to the ice as a member of the Atlanta Knights (1992–3), Knoxville Cherokees (1993–94), Nashville Knights (1993–94), Las Vegas Aces (1994–95), Tallahassee Tiger Sharks (1994–95), Las Vegas Thunder (1994–95) and Reno Renegades (1996–97).
1994 World Champion
In 1994, Rhéaume was again chosen to play for the Canadian team at the IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships. Canada won its third consecutive world title, defeating the United States 6–3 in the gold-medal game in Lake Placid, New York. As in 1992, Rhéaume was named to the All-Star Team (with Canadian teammates Danielle Goyette and Thérèse Brisson).
1998 Olympic Medallist
The 1998 Olympic Winter Games were the first to include women’s hockey. Despite her poster-girl status in the sport, Rhéaume entered that season with no guarantees of making the Olympic team. She shared the net with Lesley Reddon, alternating games right through the Olympic tournament. In the end, coach Shannon Miller selected Rhéaume to play the gold-medal game against the United States. She made several notable stops in the first period, but let in one goal during the second period and another in the third period. Canada didn’t score until late in the third period, with only four minutes left on the clock. A minute before the buzzer sounded, the Canadians decided to pull their goalie to improve their scoring chances. However, the Americans took advantage, scoring their third goal and winning the game 3–1. Rhéaume and the rest of the team went home with silver, Canada’s first Olympic medal in women’s hockey.
Hockey Career Since 1999
After the 1998 Olympics, Rhéaume took time off from hockey to have her first son. During the 1999–2000 season, she was the women’s goaltending coach at the University of Minnesota. She tried out for Team Canada in 1999, but did not make the cut and announced her retirement from the national team in 2000. In 2000–01 Rhéaume played forward with the Montréal Wingstar in the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), before hanging up her skates. (The Canadian-based NWHL ran from 1999 to 2007; it should not be confused with the US-based NWHL that began in 2015.)
Rhéaume came out of retirement in 2008 to play for the Minnesota Whitecaps of the Western Women’s Hockey League. She also made two more appearances in men’s professional hockey that season. On 10 October 2008, she played goal for the Port Huron Icehawks of the International Hockey League, during an exhibition game against the Flint Generals. Later in the season (3 April 2009), she made a brief appearance in goal with the Generals in a game against the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
On 11 October 2015, she dropped the puck in the ceremonial opening faceoff at the inaugural game of the (US-based) National Women’s Hockey League — the first women’s league to pay its players.
Business Career Since 2000
In 2000, Rhéaume joined Mission Hockey in Irvine, California, as director of global marketing for women’s hockey. In her three years with the company, she helped develop the first women-specific hockey products. From 2003 to 2005, Rhéaume was director of marketing and girls’ hockey at Powerade Iceport, an ice sports facility in Cudahy, Wisconsin. From there, she spent a year as director of sales and marketing at the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in Michigan. In 2008, she established the Manon Rhéaume Foundation, which provides scholarships to girls under 19 to help them pursue their athletic dreams.
Rhéaume married one-time teammate Gerry St. Cyr in 1998, but they later divorced. Her eldest son, Dylan St. Cyr, is a promising goaltender with USA Hockey’s National Development Team Program. Rhéaume has a second son, Dakota Rhéaume, who also plays hockey, but as a forward. The family lives in Northville, Michigan, just outside Detroit.
In 1993, Rhéaume published Manon: Alone in Front of the Net, an autobiography she co-wrote with Chantal Gilbert. The book has inspired an upcoming movie, Between the Pipes, which is scheduled for release in 2017.