When I was in grade 10, I had an assignment in history class where we had to create a monument capturing a moment in Canadian history we felt deserved to be honoured. Mine was something quite different than those of my peers; I made a 5-foot-tall stick person, made entirely out of old hockey sticks, wearing real ice hockey skates, goalie gloves and a helmet to mark the historical moment of Manon Rhéaume becoming the first woman to play in the National Hockey League (NHL) as goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning. I remember inscribing “On September 23, 1992 Manon Rhéaume became the first women to play in the NHL. Rhéaume may be the first, but she will not be the last” on the plaque of my monument. Fast forward 28 years and Rhéaume remains the only woman to play in the NHL.
From grade 10 history class to now, the second year of my PhD, I remain a Rhéaume fan and was excited to virtually join 216 other fans from across Canada and the USA on October 20, 2020, for the launch party of a new children’s book based on Rhéaume’s journey titled: Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League written by Angie Bullaro, illustrated by C.F. Payne and afterword by Manon Rhéaume. This book captures the challenges Rhéaume faced throughout her life as the only girl on her hockey teams. The book illuminates her dedication as she embarked on her ground breaking career in hockey to inspire future generations of girls to follow their dreams.
The author, Angie Bullaro, an American actress, screenwriter and author, was in pursuit of her next screenplay to write. She wanted an original story centred around a female lead. Bullaro shared during the event that she vaguely remembered a period of time in the early 1990s that a woman played in the NHL and thought it was an important and impactful story to share. Bullaro contacted Rhéaume to discuss the potential film. Moving forward, Rhéaume agreed for Bullaro to write, produce, and star in the movie about her life. The movie, “Between the Pipelines” is in the early phases of production but delayed by COVID-19; however, Bullaro shared that they hope to begin filming in the spring of 2021. Bullaro will play Rhéaume in the film, and explained that she is spending countless hours learning to play goalie and perfect her French-Canadian accent. The movie teaser can be found here.
With the screenwriting for the movie underway, Bullaro thought the story had the potential to be made into a children’s book. Bullaro explained the impact that books had on her life growing up and how simply reading a book about a character similar to you can be extremely influential on a young person’s life—representation matters. Bullaro’s goal for this book was to use Rhéaume’s story to “inspire many young girls to follow their dreams, work hard and not to give up.” It was at this moment during the launch party that the chat function was lighting up with many attendee’s sharing comments such as:
“My daughter is 8 and plays goalie in a predominantly boys league. Buying this book for her to keep her motivated. Your legacy lives on.”
“My daughter is a goalie and LOVES it!”
“This will inspire my daughter to keep playing. Even when it’s tough”
“My 13-year-old daughter is a goaltender. Manon is such an inspiration for her!”
Similarly, growing up in a hockey-centric household myself, I can recall the numerous hockey books my sisters and I read all had a boy protagonist. A hockey story featuring a girl, such as Rhéaume would have captured us – my sisters and I – who dreamed of playing professional hockey.
Although the launch party didn’t reveal details of the book, Rhéaume talked about winning her silver medal at the 1998 Olympic games in Nagano, Japan. This was the first time women’s hockey was an Olympic event, highlighting how this experience was very different than playing in the NHL, but a very rewarding experience nonetheless. She described being a part of Team Canada and representing the nation at this historical event with her teammates as something she will forever cherish. When asked what were some of the most challenging aspects of being the only woman on men’s teams, she explained the added pressures she felt to perform at her best all the time and the abuse she faced when she was younger. For example, she shared that she was once punched by an opponent while shaking hands following the game because she was a girl, and she once had a teammate that would constantly shoot pucks at her (and not in a practice-way) saying he did not want a girl on his team. She reflected that she couldn’t let these moments discourage her or bring her down, because she had a goal and that was to play in the NHL.
Whether you have young hockey players in your life or not, this children’s book offers an inspirational story and beautifully illustrated pictures of a hallmark historical Canadian moment. Pick up your copy of Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League to be featured on your bookshelf and shared with the next generation of girl hockey players.