Manon Rheaume is probably the most famous female hockey player.
Rheaume was born on February 24, 1972 in the small town of Lac Beauport, Quebec, Canada. At the time there was no team in Lac Beauport for kids to play on. They would have to travel to nearby centers in order to play. Rheaume's father Pierre felt that this was not right, and created an outdoor rink and organized a league for the local kids.
Pierre Rheaume let anyone who wanted to play participate, including his two sons, one of which, Pascal, would make it to the National Hockey League. At the age of 5 Manon wanted to play too, and since none of the other kids wanted to be goalie, she willing donned the pads and mask and took to the pipes!
All the ice time with her father's team in Lac Beauport served her well, as she progressed through all levels of hockey based on her on merit. And she always had to do it on boys teams in boys leagues.
She even became the first girl to play in the International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament of Quebec. The famed tournament has featured many prominent NHL alumni. It was at this time, when Manon was just 11 years old, that she started making national headlines.
After playing a handful of minutes in the Quebec Junior Hockey League, one of hockey's top professional male development leagues, she was invited to the training camp of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992. She made history when she participated in a preseason game, becoming the first female to play in an NHL game.
Since then she has played primarily with a number of men's minor professional teams. Most women hockey players either play college hockey or play strictly with their national team. Manon has spent much of her time practicing and sometimes even playing, against men.
Over a span of four seasons she appeared in 24 regular season games in the IHL, ECHL and WCHL, compiling a 7-6-2 record in the process. She had 425 minutes in net with the WCHL Reno Renegades in 1996-97. Her GAA was 5.65 in Reno, but all the other goalies on that team that year had GAAs over 6. You could definitely say defense was not a strong suit with them, as they let in a dreadful 418 goals, as opposed to 252 goals scored. Rheaume may have been the best goalie they had.
Manon also spent her summers improving her goaltending by playing nets in the professional roller hockey league RHI.
Interestingly, despite her stardom as the female goalie playing in the men's professional leagues, she was losing ground as the starting goalie on the Canadian women's national and Olympic teams. At one point the most famous female hockey player in the world was even cut from the 1998 Olympic squad, but did earn her way back on.
This is largely because men's and women's hockey is actually quite different. Manon had spent so much time with the men that other Canadian female goalies passed her at the women's level.
Manon was the starting goaltender for the gold medal winning Canadian squad at both the 1992 and 1994 World Championships, and was named MVP in both tournaments. She also helped Canada to the silver medal at the 1998 Olympic games, backing up Danielle Dube.
Rheaume was not part of the 1999 World Championship team, which likely played a role in her decision in 2000 to retire from the national team. She continued to play for the Montreal Wingstars of the National Women's Hockey League.
While playing with Atlanta of the IHL Manon found time to write her story in the book Manon: Alone in Front of the Net. She continues to give back to girls hockey, including through the Manon Rheaume Foundation. The only time she puts on the pads nowadays is for charity events involving NHL alumni.
Manon Rheaume was a great pioneer for women's hockey and a great ambassador for the sport worldwide. She is a true inspiration to little girls with hockey dreams everywhere.