TAMPA — It’s been 23 years since Manon Rheaume made NHL history by suiting up for one period in goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning during an exhibition game. People still remind her of the impact she made in that brief NHL career.
“When I did this experience, I didn’t realize how much I was impacting people, and it’s now later in life and every time people meet me [they ask] ‘You’re the goalie?’ because that name is so familiar to them,” she said.
“My son comes back home with a book from the library and it’s got a picture of me and it’s like ‘Oh, look what I saw!’ I think now I realize more that what I did back then was a big deal.”
Rheaume was inside Amalie Arena on Friday afternoon doing promotion for an upcoming movie about her time with the Lightning entitled, “Between the Pipes.” The film will be written and produced by Angie Bullaro, who will also play the role of Rheaume.
To make the hockey scenes as realistic as possible, Rheaume will be a consultant as well as associate producer, while Bullaro has been working with former NHL goaltender Steve Valiquette.
Bullaro and her husband started their own production company, Lazy Kitty Productions, over a year ago and wanted to make a film that fit their vision of doing stories focusing on strong female leads. After choosing to do go in the direction of sports, Bullaro remembered Rheaume playing for the Lightning and then the wheels were in motion.
The plan is begin shooting this winter with a release by the start of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Rheaume will have a small cameo in the movie and the hope is to also involve former Lightning GM Phil Esposito, who came up with the idea of signing her to a tryout contract for the then-expansion franchise.
We sat down with Rheaume and talked about the movie, her time with the Lightning, the future of women’s hockey and her Stanley Cup Final prediction.
Q. How did the idea for the movie come about?
RHEAUME: “Angi contacted me through my foundation. So I called her and we ended up talking about the project and we hit it off right away because her idea of the project was to make a story to inspire people. And what I was telling her was everything that happened to me, all the cool things I did, the most satisfying thing was I inspired young girls. I said now we can have a chance to inspire the next generation of young people.”
In a lot of movies the person its based on has cameo role of some sort. Will you get any screen time?
“I don’t know about that. I’ll be there with what has to do with hockey; so every hockey scene and things like that. You see a lot of those hockey movies and it doesn’t look real and you’ll watch a movie like ‘Miracle,’ which it looks like you were there in the stands. That’s what you want it to look like. I’m really excited to be part of it to make sure to portray what hockey’s all about.”
The entire experience with the Lightning, where you able to take a breath during it or did you really have no time to take it all in?
“I had no time to think. It was one of those things by the time I said yes to the training camp to the time that it was over, it went so fast. That’s why I didn’t realize until later in life that it was a big deal what I did and it did impact people. I just thought that, OK I’m playing hockey at the highest level, it’s cool, but I didn’t realize how big it was. Even 20 years later when they did a story a couple years ago, they said no other woman did it since then. I thought after me you may have seen other women playing, so that part of it made me realize how big of a deal it was.”
When you first arrived in camp with the Lightning in 1992, did you feel welcomed?
“Actually, after the first game they divided us into four teams [at camp] and we played a mini tournament, so my first time on the ice was a game and I did not allow any goals in 14 shots. We were actually winning 2-1 when I came in because everyone was splitting the game and playing a period. Apparently, in the other locker room, because some of the French guys told me after, they were saying ‘Oh, the girl’s coming in now. It’s going to be easy. We’re going to win’ and we ended up winning 5-1 and I didn’t allow [any] goals. I think that helped me to get the respect of guys the rest of training camp and a lot of the guys were looking at me like their little sister and supporting what I was doing.
"I never felt during camp that some people didn’t want me around. If they didn’t want me around they never let me know, but throughout the years I may have had one or two guys that didn’t like the fact that I was a woman and made my life a little miserable, but I didn’t let that stop me from continuing to play the game.”
Wendell Young was a big supporter of yours back then, wasn’t he?
“He was amazing. First of all, to be paired up with me, he had to deal with this different pressure because he was going out there and I was going next, and no way he wanted a girl to do better than him, and I knew that. And instead of being resentful of having me on the team, he was actually really helpful. He’s such a great guy. He’s someone I’ll always have so much respect for and the way that he handled himself the whole training camp, I just couldn’t ask for a better goalie partner than him.”
The last few years we’ve seen Shannon Szabados, Noora Raty and Florence Schelling join men’s teams. Could that have been something you envisioned way back then?
“I never thought that when I started but after going to Tampa I really thought 'OK, maybe that’s going to help other women to get there or inspire women to do say I can do this' … Now to know that you can make it to the Olympics, you can have a college scholarship. It grew and it’s really cool to see where it’s at.”
Women’s hockey has continue to grow over the years and now there will be two leagues available for players. What do you think is the next step for growth for the women’s game internationally?
“I think it’s to find the right place for the girls. After they’re done with college, where can you continue to play at a high level to be able to improve for the next Olympics? College hockey is great because you practice every day, you play good competition, but when you’re done with college where do you go? Obviously they have those leagues, but it’s not everybody. People have to get a job. It’s not like guys where you make the NHL and you make a million dollars. They have to have a job. It’s not like they can just pick up and leave and go play on those teams and not have another job to help out. I don’t know yet how much it pays, but I don’t know if [you] can just make a living out of doing this. It would be really good to find a way to, especially for the national team program at every country, a place for those girls to train when they’re done with college.”
Have you worked with any of the women that played in the CWHL?
“I played a couple years ago with the Minnesota Whitecaps, so I got to see some of them. I also coach a lot of young girls and now about four or five made it to the U.S. national team. It was kind of cool to see that they were younger and working with them and now they made it to that level.”
Do you feel for these women’s league now in order to survive long-term they need some kind of financial partnership with the NHL?
“Absolutely. I think you get involved with the NHL would be the best thing for them because you’ve be able to survive eventually … You look at the NBA and what they did with the WNBA, it’s been a partnership to be able to make it happen.”
Finally, your series prediction: Lightning or Blackhawks?
“I have to go Lightning always. They’ve always been in my heart. Probably in seven. They’re two amazing teams and offensively they’re both very, very strong. I think [the playoffs[ have been really cool because you have one team one game show up and you think the other team is done and all of a sudden the other team comes back even harder.”
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