On September 23, 1992, goalie Manon Rhéaume became the first woman to suit up for one of North America’s four major men’s professional sports leagues by playing 20 minutes in an exhibition for Tampa Bay Lightning.
Manon Rhéaume’s appearance in Tampa that night was spectacular for two reasons: she became the first woman to play in the NHL, and in doing so, the first goalie in the crease for the newborn Tampa Bay Lightning franchise.
The 20-year-old netminder played the entire first period of the exhibition against the St. Louis Blues in the Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Donning jersey No. 33, Rhéaume stopped seven of nine shots in her 20 minutes between the posts, giving up goals to Jeff Brown and Brendan Shanahan. Tampa Bay also scored twice in the first period, so Rhéaume left the ice with the game tied 2-2.
The report in the next day’s Tampa Tribune noted that she made a couple of big plays, including one where she “snuffed out a pass through the crease” and then later on when she knocked down “a couple of hard shots from the point”, which kept Tampa Bay in the game.
While the game against the Blues may have been a preseason contest and her signing by Lightning co-founder Phil Espisito a publicity stunt, Rhéaume’s appearance was still noteworthy because of its historic gender barrier-breaking nature. Her performance on ice was also praised by coaches and managers present at the game.
Despite Rhéaume’s best efforts, the Lightning faltered once she left the crease for the bench and lost 6-4.
It’s truly the most nerve-racking moment of my life. I knew my performance was so important. It was not just another game that you just go and play in.
The first woman to play against NHL competition, 25 years after her first NHL game
Tampa Bay signed Rhéaume shortly after her preseason performance and placed her on their International Hockey League farm team, the Atlanta Knights. She made two appearances for the Knights during the 1992-93 regular season.
Rhéaume later played one more exhibition game in the NHL, against the Boston Bruins in the lead-up to the 1993-94 season. She also minded the nets for the Canadian women’s hockey team and won world championships in 1992 and 1994 as well as a silver medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
During her career, Rhéaume played in numerous other games for men’s minor league teams. Her last appearance was in 2009, when she suited up for the Flint Generals in the IHL.
As for Tampa Bay’s inaugural season in 1992-93, the expansion NHL team would go on to finish last in the Norris Division with a 23-54-7 mark.
There’s no way in the world you can blame this game on [Rhéaume]. No way. Not with the defensive effort we had tonight. She was the one who kept us in it.
The head coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992
A partial news report of Rhéaume’s historic game is available on YouTube:
Not many images exist of Rhéaume in action that night. Because I couldn’t find a clear one of her during live play, this one of her getting ready before the puck drop is probably the best:
She wasn’t here for her looks. She was here because she can play goal. She’s not ready for this, the NHL, but she is legitimate for the minors.
Ron Caron, the general manager for the St. Louis Blues in 1992
The general manager for the St. Louis Blues in 1992
- In the opening game of the 1992 NHL preseason, Manon Rhéaume became the first woman to suit up for one of North America’s four major men’s professional sports leagues by starting the first 20 minutes in goal for Tampa Bay Lightning.
- Rhéaume let in two goals on nine shots against the St. Louis Blues. She exited the game with the score tied 2-2.
- Tampa Bay, which was an expansion franchise in 1992, wound up losing 6-4. The team went on to finish last in the Norris Division during the regular season.
- Whatever Happened To– ?: Catching Up with Canadian Icons by Mark Kearney and Randy Ray via Google Books
- Tampa Bay Times, September 24, 1992 via Newspapers.com
- The Tampa Tribune, September 24, 1992 via Newspapers.com
- “Manon Rheaume realizes her NHL debut was ‘not just another game’”, Sportsnet.ca