Last year, during the Western Conference Finals, I was with a group of beer-guzzling friends, watching the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars run each other through the boards in a brutal, physical game; these guys looked pissed like they hadn’t been laid in a while.
When there was a break in the action, Hailey, one of the other girls in our group, threw a question out onto the table.
“Do you think a woman will ever play in the NHL?”
Hailey’s hockey comments are usually ignored since she thinks icing is something you only find on a cake. The guys feel she makes up for her lack of knowledge with those tiny denim cutoffs and extra-small tight ‘T’s she chooses to wear to some of the sporting events and ice-cold taverns.
This question though, got the guys riled up more than one of Hailey’s see-through shirts and the timing was perfect as a close-up shot of two Red Wings sitting on the bench came up on the giant screen. Dallas Drake sporting a fresh, two-inch gash on his nose and Kris Draper slouched next to him icing a big red knot on his chin that was decorated with new stitches, compliments of a Drake shot minutes earlier that bounced off his face and into the net for a goal.
We stared at the image on the screen like the question had just been answered then the one-liners began to fly.
“The helmet might give her a bad hair day.”
“If she got run into the boards she’d be upset about breaking a nail.”
“The Islanders had a bunch . . . Bossy . . . Gillies . . . Bobby Bourne.” – Nothing like a smart-ass Ranger fan.
I even threw one in, “Do those skates come in another color?”
After we finished our bad rendition of “Last Comic Standing” I reminded the group, ‘Don’t forget about Manon Rheaume.’
For those fans that were not following pro hockey in 1992, Manon Rheaume is the hot twenty-year-old goaltender best known for becoming the first woman to appear in an NHL game.
Phil Esposito, who was running the Tampa Bay Lightning at the time, was accused of using Rheaume as a publicity stunt. Maybe, but regardless this hot little babe gained a bunch of attention and was later offered to pose in a few men’s magazines.
Marketing ploy or not, 10,000 fans packed little Expo Hall on a humid September night in Tampa to see the 5′ 6″, 125 pound Rheaume strut her stuff.
Playing against the St. Louis Blues and donning her idol, Patrick Roy’s #33, the French-Canadian Rheaume allowed 2 goals on 9 shots in one period that night. Those aren’t the greatest numbers but nobody seemed to mind. She was a chick, she looked like a model and like Hailey, people in Tampa still thought icing is something you only find on a cake.
Rheaume went on to play a few other ‘pro’ games for the Knoxville Cherokees of the ECHL and the Atlanta Knights in the IHL compiling numbers that guaranteed her a short run at the men’s level.
Other chicks who gave it a run are Kim Martin, a Swedish goalie who was born in Stockholm and Erin Whitten who was named the top goaltender at the 1994 World Championship. Whitten made pro sports history by becoming the first woman to post a goaltending win in men’s hockey. On October 30, 1993 while playing for the Toledo Storm, she stopped 15 of 19 shots and defeated the Dayton Bombers, 6-5 in an ECHL game; the same league Rheaume later posted her first pro victory.
Time will tell if these women are laying a foundation for some of us girls to make it to the pro ranks and eventually compete in the NHL. But looking back to that image of Drake and Draper nursing the wounds inflicted in that brutal game, if we ever see a female make it in the NHL, odds are it will be in the goaltender position.
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