Friday, September 23, 2016

1992-93 Tampa Bay Lightning Manon Rheaume Jersey

On this date in 1992, Manon Rheaume became the first, and to this date only, woman to play in an NHL game.

Tampa Bay General Manager Phil Esposito explains how he first became aware of Rheaume: "I was up in Montreal looking at players and we went to this Junior A game and somebody said they wanted me to see this player. I saw the guy and I didn't think he was very good. I said "I like the little goalie." I didn't know it was a woman, and neither did my scout. I said, "I want to go talk to that goalie. He's got something." So I go down to talk to him and she walked out. I nearly flipped. I said, "Oh my God, she's gorgeous. Who is that girl?" They said, "That's the goalie."

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Rheaume was signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning, as an admitted publicity ploy, and played in the first period of the franchise's first home game, an exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues. She allowed two goals on nine shots, scored by Jeff Brown and Brendan Shanahan.


From Esposito's book "Thunder and Lightning", his take on her tryout with the Lightning;

During that training camp, I signed Manon Rheaume to come and play for us. Manon was a goaltender, and she was a beautiful young woman.

I found Manon through Jacques Campeau. Jacques was the one who convinced me to sign Manon Rheaume. We went up to a women's tournament and watched her play. "Play her," he said. "The publicity will be great." I agreed with him. And so when we opened up camp in Lakeland, Manon was on the squad. As a result, CBS, NBC and ABC all were there talking about the first woman goaltender ever to play in an NHL game.

Head coach Terry Crisp hated that Manon was on the team. So did my brother Assistant GM Tony Esposito, which may have been the only time they agreed on anything. Even Assistant Coach Wayne Cashman  hated it. Cash would give me the evil eye. I'd say to him, "We're doing it. That's it." A lot of the scouts hated it too. They players didn't like it much either.

I told Manon, "You have to go out with the guys. You have to be part of the team." They took her to dinner and for a few beers.

I wanted to play her because there was nothing to lose and everything to gain. This wasn't Ottawa or Toronto or Boston or New York. This was Tampa, Florida. No other person would have even tried to start hockey here. I was the right guy at the right time to do this. Was in innovative? Some people thought so. Others thought it was crazy. I knew we weren't going to win, so my idea was to promote the team in any way I could to put people in the seats. If I had staked everything on the team's record, we would have had three thousand people in the building, and most of those would have been relatives.

Manon wasn't a bad goalie, but she was gorgeous and too much of a model to stay in the game. There was no harm in letting her come to camp and play. When I told Crispy I wanted her to play half a game, he just about died.

"Oh no, we're a laughingstock as it is," he said.

"Terry, you are going to play her," I said. "And we're going to publicize it."

Even though the players didn't want her to play, the all fought to room with her. We gave her her own dressing room.

She played half a game against St. Louis during training camp at the Fairgrounds. The place was jammed. They were sitting up in the rafters. An unbelievable number of women came to that game. Brett Hull, who had one of the hardest shots in the game, was shooting bullets at her, and she stood right in there.

Bobby Plager, the coach of the Blues, said to me, "I've instructed my boys to shoot at the five hole," meaning just below the crotch.

"Bobby, you pig," I said.

During the game, Rob Ramage, one of our defensemen, an older guy, a class guy, wouldn't let any of the Blues players get near her. He was right there to protect her.

During practice Manon pulled a muscle in her lower back. The trainer, Larry Ness, said to me, "What do I do?" I said, "You do the same as you'd do with a guy. But you better not get a hard-on."

He was rubbing her back and her ass, and the guys were peeking through the curtain trying to see her naked.

At the end of training camp, I sent her to Atlanta as the backup goalie for our International Hockey League team. She played once in a while and was okay. They ended up winning the championship. She went on to play on the 1998 Canadian Olympic team, which Canada lost to the United States. Manon made a good living speaking and signing autographs. They made a movie about her. Sure I exploited her, but it was good for her too.

While she did not make the Tampa Bay roster, she did play a pair of games for the Atlanta Knights of the IHL that season.

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Rheaume with the Atlanta Knights

Rheaume also played in nine ECHL games spread between three clubs over the 1993-94 (Knoxville Cherokees - 4 games and the Nashville Knights - 4 games) and 1994-95 season (Tallahassee Tiger Sharks) , posting a 5-1-1 record.

She was also back in the IHL in 1994-95, playing in two games for the Las Vegas Thunder. Two seasons later, Rheaume was once again the pro ranks, appearing in 11 games for the Reno Renegades of the West Coast Hockey League with a 2-3-1 record.

By the time she reached the professional ranks, she was no stranger to competing with the boys, having become the first girl to play in the prestigious Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament at age 11, as well as the first female to appear in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, seeing limited time in three games with the Trois-Rivieres Draveurs, totaling 17 minutes.

Aside from her forays into the world of men's hockey, she was also a very accomplished goaltender in the world of women's hockey, highlighted by winning gold medals at both the 1992 and 1994 World Championships for Canada, being named Tournament MVP both times. She then won a sliver medal at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan at the first women's Olympic hockey tournament.

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Rheaume at the 1998 Olympics with Canada

Rheaume has written a well reviewed book about her experiences in hockey, titled Manon: Alone in Front of the Net.

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Today's featured jersey is a 1992-93 Tampa Bay Lightning Manon Rheaume jersey. The jersey features the Stanley Cup Centennial patch worn on all NHL players' jerseys during the inaugural season for the Lightning.

While the jersey worn by the Lightning remained the same for 13 seasons through the 2006-07 season, the customization went through four distinct specifications. Their inaugural season of 1992-93 saw the team use a custom font for the names in three colors paired with a fairly standard block font for the numbers but with a drop shadow. The following season, saw both the names and numbers italicized.

In 1995-96, the team changed to a three color paintbrush font for the numbers and a vertically arched, bold block font for the names. Finally, in 2001-02, the team reverted back to their original font for the numbers, only now in three colors without a drop shadow paired with a simple one color block font for the names in what was a rather pedestrian look compared to the unique looks that preceded it.

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In the video section today, plenty to view today. First, a report on Rheaume and her appearance for the Lightning.

Next, a feature "The Woman Behind the Mask" about her experience with the Lightning.

Here is a feature segment on Rheaume from her time on the Atlanta Knights, followed by her first appearance for the Knights, the first for a female in an IHL regular season game.

Next up is Rheaume's appearance on the David Letterman show, which must have been a bit nerve-wracking for a primarily French-speaking 20-year-old on national TV in the US.

Next is Rheaume's appearance on a Canadian Quiz show "Front Page Challenge", similar to "To Tell the Truth" or "What's My Line?" in the US, where a panel tries to guess the unusual occupation of a guest.

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