Manon-ing the pipes

SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

It seems like only yesterday Manon Rheaume was breaking hockey's gender barrier.

Has it really been nearly 20 years?

"Sixteen!" Rheaume is quick to correct her interviewer.

"Don't make me feel older than I am."

Rheaume became the first female player to suit up in an NHL game when she 'manned' the pipes for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 1992 pre-season tilt.

"It's been crazy to think that it's been 16 years, and I'm going to be out there still playing," the 35-year-old said of this weekend's four-game set.

Her Minnesota Whitecaps (of the Western Women's Hockey League) beat the Strathmore Rockies 7-3 Thursday night before taking on Calgary's Oval X-Treme last night. They'll visit the Rockies tonight at 5:15 p.m and finish off the trip tomorrow morning against the X-Treme (8:30 a.m. at the Olympic Oval).

Rheaume's former Olympic teammate Hayley Wickenheiser is forging her own path in the men's game, currently playing in Sweden's third division.

"I think it's great," Rheaume said. "Hayley Wickenheiser is a great player. For her, it's an opportunity to play at her highest level. And it's nice that she can compete at that level.

Rheaume has been serving as a spare with the Minnesota squad for the past two seasons.

"They already have three goaltenders on their team, but when they go on the road, sometimes some of the girls can't travel because of their jobs," she said. "That's when they contact me to see if I can make a road trip.

"And since I love playing, it's fun for me to go out there."

The Whitecaps took two of three games from the X-Treme earlier this season. The Oval squad beat the 'Caps 9-2 in Minnesota last month before dropping 5-4 and 4-3 decisions.

Those losses snapped a string that saw the X-Treme go two years without tasting defeat in the regular season.

"A lot of the girls (from the Whitecaps) are on the U.S. Olympic Team," she said. "Now we have a chance to play Calgary, and they have a lot of players from the Canadian National Team."

Playing at a high level is nothing new to Rheaume, who won silver with Team Canada at the 1998 Olympics.

She's also played a number of games for teams in various professional leagues. She went to training camp with the IHL's Port Huron Icehawks this past fall to help promote a charitable foundation.

She also plays in numerous charity games.

"You play with a lot of ex-NHL players who can still play," she said. "So I want to be able to compete when I play those games."

But most of her time is reserved for her two sons.

"I'm a stay-at-home mom," she said. "I have a two-year-old and a nine-year-old.

"So I have two hours every day to skate or to train. The rest of the time, it's all about my kids.

"I help out coaching my oldest one, who is a goalie. I have a lot of respect for my mom now because it's a lot tougher to be the mom of a goalie than being a goalie yourself."


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