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Manon Rheaume hailed as 'pioneer' for helping grow women’s hockey

This is September 23, 1992 photo of Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender, Manon Rheaume, 20, smiling at a news confrence after making her debut against the St. Louis Blues at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa.

TOM SEATON/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Players and coaches are well aware of Manon Rheaume's contribution to women's hockey.

When the goaltender suited up for the Trois-Rivieres Draveurs in a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game in 1991, it brought recognition to the women's game, which has continued to grow ever since.

"It was a very important moment in women's hockey history, a very positive moment, even if a lot of people said it was a marketing stunt at the time," said Daniele Sauvageau, who coached the Canadian women's team to gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics. "It opened a door that can never be closed again.

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"To me, she was an ambassador. She opened doors, got people talking about what she was doing. Without that, we wouldn't have what we have today. Manon Rheaume's name is known all over the women's hockey world."

Sauvageau said the 25th anniversary of Rheaume's first action in a men's junior hockey game on Nov. 26 will be a chance to pay tribute to her contributions to her sport and put women's hockey in the spotlight.

"It comes at a good time," said Sauvageau, general manager of the women's team at the University of Montreal. "Women's sports in general, whether it's hockey or anything else, still face challenges for recognition, talent and investment."

Since the first women's world hockey championship in 1990 in Ottawa, the sport has taken some major steps, including its admission to the Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.

One player inspired by Rheaume was Charline Labonte, who played 28 games in goal over two seasons for the Acadie-Bathurst Titans in the QMJHL in 1999 and 2000.

"When I signed my contract with the Titan she sent me a card of congratulations," said Labonte. "When you're 16 years old and your idol takes the time to write to you, that's something.

"Manon is a living legend, a pioneer. Especially for us goaltenders."

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