What it was like meeting the first woman to play in the NHL…

IMG_5238Amy is a dedicated and passionate coach who’s field hockey experience dates back to her years as a collegiate field hockey athlete Amy has a host of coaching qualifications and has experience of working at both grassroots level and spending 14 years working as a High Performance Field Hockey Coach for fourteen years with Field Hockey Ontario.  She is also founder of Maverick Field Hockey Club and North Star Minds, Peterborough and Co-Founder Prowess Strength & Conditioning


Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Manon Rheaume listens to the National Anthem prior to her professional debut against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 1992 at the Tampa Fairgrounds in Tampa, Florida. The 20-year-old goaltender became the first woman to play in one of the four major pro sports leagues. (AP Photo/Chris O?Meara)

I recently joined our local chapter of the Women’s Business Network and shortly thereafter they made an announcement that Manon Rheaume, the first women to ever play in the National Hockey League would be a keynote speaker to kickoff the 2016 New Year. Needless to say I took this as a very good sign!

My first ever meeting had me sitting at a table with incredible women in their Business fields – Entrepreneurs, Health Collective Managers, Chamber of Commerce Associates, Executive Directors. This was a powerful first impression.  Introductions and announcements, ‘Thought of the Day’ were all inspirational and the positive vibe was electric in anticipation of hearing Manon speak of her experience.

Manon recapped how it actually came to be that she found herself between the pipes for the Tampa Bay Lightning – a brand new expansion team for the NHL in the most unlikely State of Florida.  She highlighted younger years growing up with brothers playing goalie in their street hockey games and spoke affectionately about her Dad who coached the local rep team.  It was in fact this rep team where she got her start as they needed a goalie and she was keen.

Of course not everyone was keen to have a girl on the team and so her legacy begins.  She was a girl. She was a goalie at a time when girls hockey wasn’t available in every small town across Canada so her rise came through competing with and against boys.  It was a rough road she reflected on how many times she was not permitted to play because she was a girl. This later would prove to be a powerful ‘why’ when the Lightning came calling.

One very powerful take away as Manon reflected on her playing days was she still had to perform. She still had to practice, train and execute during the games and practices regardless of any hype, sensationalism or rhetoric.  This was her focus – to be the best goaltender, period.

Women’s Hockey was on the rise in Canada and Manon was successful in making our National Team and competed at the World Championships and Olympics however needed to find a job so became a French TV commentator covering the NHL draft. This is a fateful opportunity as it is where she met Phil Espisito, the General Manager for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Her breakthrough came when he was given game footage of a goalie to which he responded “he’s a little small but invite them to training camp”. He had no idea he was watching Manon.

The media frenzy that ensued was crazy as Manon continued to reflect. The nay-sayers, the ‘pubicity stunt’ and the media waiting for her to fail.  All the while Manon continued to perform and no one was talking about her stats that ranked her as top 3. She still did the work! Manon did her job.

During the question period she disclosed her very personal and powerful why? Why the NHL? Manon wanted to play at the highest level of hockey and the National Hockey League is coveted as the highest level for ANY hockey player so of course she set her aim high.

The most powerful comment she made was “I took the opportunity with the Lightning despite all the IMG_2001hype because it was the first time a team wanted me BECAUSE I WAS A GIRL.

When asked “What would you say to this generation of female hockey players?” Take full advantage of the awesome girls’ hockey programs that have grown and excelled over the years and be sure to hire a good Strength Coach. “You have to get strong to get better!”

Manon’s experience reminded me about the importance of hard work. Consistently doing the tough work to obtain the highest level of success no matter what you are pursuing in life is a powerful message for all young aspiring female athletes. Getting strong to get better can also translate to the mental toughness side of pursuing goals and dreams. Emotionally tough as a coach to whether the ups and downs is certainly a key take away for me.

I feel very fortunate and grateful for the mentorship I have received over the years and certainly still learning from attending meetings and hearing key note speakers such as Manon. Let’s keep talking, sharing and learning together.