Manon Rheaume had to visit the bookstore closest to her Michigan home on Tuesday. There it was, the illustration of her in a Lightning uniform (sans logo) and goalie pads on a book cover.
“Breaking the Ice,” a children’s picture book about Rheaume’s path to becoming the first woman to play in the NHL, published on Tuesday. Even though she already had a copy at home, Rheaume just had to see it on the shelf in a store.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Rheaume said. “The goal of that book is totally to inspire young people to not be afraid of dreaming of something and go after your dreams. You don’t need to fit a certain mold.”
Rheaume isn’t a household name in the NHL. Longtime Lightning fans know her, though.
Rheaume played one period of an exhibition game for the Lightning in 1992, allowing two goals on nine shots against the St. Louis Blues. She also appeared in one period of a preseason game against the Boston Bruins in ’93, stopping eight of 11 shots.
Though then-Lightning general manager Phil Esposito called it a publicity stunt for the fledgling franchise, Rheaume remains the only woman to have played in the league. A few customized Rheaume jerseys still dot Amalie Arena at games.
The project started five years ago when Angie Bullaro approached Rheaume about making a movie to tell her story.
Bullaro wanted her next project to be about women in sports and vaguely remembered hearing about women in the NHL in the ’90s. But when she looked into it, Bullaro realized there was just one.
Bullaro felt Rheaume had an “incredible story that people didn’t know about.” She reached out through Rheaume’s website, and they’ve been working together ever since.
In addition to being a producer and actress, Bullaro has spent years writing and pitching children’s fiction but hadn’t published a book. As she discussed the movie with a critique group, they asked why she wasn’t writing a book to go with it.
Transitioning from fiction to a biography was challenging for Bullaro. Even in a movie, she can take some liberties, but in this case she had to find a balance between a recitation of facts and storytelling.
“It’s an engaging story, but you have to put in a beginning-middle-end format for children,” Bullaro said. “Then I said, ‘if Manon can play in the NHL, you can write a biography.’”
Simon and Schuster picked up the book and brought illustrator C.F. Payne on board. Payne, who might be best-known for his drawing of Barack Obama on the cover of Time magazine, had illustrated a similar book about Mary Garber, a pioneer female sports journalist. Bullaro had purchased “Miss Mary Reporting” as part of her research in children’s biographies.
Rheaume appreciates how well Payne captured the moments of her life. In particular, a scene around the dinner table sticks out to her.
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Rheaume became a goalie because her brothers needed a target to shoot on. Her father coached their team and said he didn’t know who he was going to name goalie for an upcoming tournament. Rheaume said she wanted to do it.
“That’s such a big part, that’s the reason why all of this happened,” she said. “That moment, when I saw that picture of me at the dinner table with my parents, it was just such a cool feeling to see that image.”
At the time, in 1992, Rheaume didn’t realize the impact her story would have on others. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that mothers started approaching her and sharing how she inspired their daughter or that their son did a project on her in school.
She and Bullaro hope this book reaches children and inspires them.
During the virtual launch event on Tuesday, a couple of dads said they couldn’t wait to get the book for their sons so they could see that girls play hockey.
“That’s a big part of changing girls' role in sports,” Bullaro said. “It’s not only showing girls what they can do and giving them the opportunities and putting the money behind it. It’s also changing how boys think about girls and how they talk about girls in sports and how adults talk about girls. Her story is so much more than a hockey story.”
How to get the book
“Breaking the Ice” is available everywhere books are sold.
It was important to Bullaro and Rheaume to host their virtual launch event through an independent bookstore. So Vroman’s Bookstore will be selling copies with signed bookplates through their website, vromansbookstore.com. Add a note that you’d like a signed copy when you submit your order.
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