A Woman in the NHL? Phil Esposito says "Someday!" 9-23-08

7th Woman's picture

As if I needed another reason to really enjoy Phil Esposito, I got one today. I had always heard about the only woman to play in the NHL, but I didn't really know her story. As today is the anniversary of that historic event, Home Ice was recounting the story with the man who made it all possible: Phil Esposito, who at the time was the GM of the new Tampa Bay Lightening.

It was 1992 and Espo was trying to actually fill TWO team rosters. He said today he was inviting all sorts of free agents to camp, but that he had seen this little goalie playing in a junior league game, and liked what he saw. He asked to be introduced and was a little surprised when the mask came off.
"All of a sudden my mind started racing." he said today. "Maybe it was a publicity stunt. Maybe not. I invited her to camp."
So this young girl became the first woman invited to an NHL training camp. Phil said he knew she'd be able to handle it. But of course there were complications. She needed her own room, she needed her own locker room space, her luggage was lost so she needed clothes, and even worse than that.... the trainer was afraid to touch her.
Who would ever have thought that Phil Esposito was a pioneer for women's rights? Certainly not I! But it seems like he was.
On Sept. 23, 1992 Rheaume played half an exhibition game for the Tampa Bay Lightening against the St. Louis Blues.
"I knew she wouldn't embarrass herself or the team. I knew she's be able to hold her own." Phil said. She did, stopping 7 of 9 shots. The 10,000 seat arena was almost completely sold out. Stunt or not, Phil knew that it was history in the making.
"It's going to happen. The day will come that a woman will be in the NHL and I can tell you it will probably be a goalie. They have the reflexes and the agility. If they have the size, maybe 5'10" and 165 lbs, it will happen!"
He said that Manon played for their minor league team and did very well but could never put on enough weight to "get bigger." Manon struggled but didn't get past the 120 lb mark. She played in the minors and even won a Silver in the Olympics for Team Canada.
So today let's thank Phil Esposito for not being one of the boys club and realizing that women do have a place in this game. And Thank you to Manon Rheaume for opening the door. Now if we can just get a few more women to take a peek at what's on the other side of it!