Just be yourself.
Hockey trailblazers Manon Rhéaume and Cassie Campbell-Pascall know what it takes to compete in a sport that’s predominantly male, and offered that straightforward advice to 16-year-old goaltender Taya Currie, the first female player ever drafted by an OHL team.
“When I started to play, I had no one to look up to,” said Rhéaume, who was also a goalie and played for three men’s pro teams. “I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know what to expect. I never even dreamed of it. So, kudos to the team that drafted her and the other teams for showing interest, and for not being afraid to draft a woman.”
Rhéaume — one of nine female goalies to have played professionally for a men’s team — reached out to Currie via Twitter on Saturday, soon after the Sarnia Sting made her the 267th overall pick.
Both Rhéaume and Campbell-Pascall expect the young netminder to face challenges, to sometimes wonder if she belongs. The trick, they say, is to remember how far she’s come and what got her to this point.
“As a player, (Currie) might try and be perfect,” said Campbell-Pascall, the former star forward of Canada’s national team and now a hockey analyst on Sportsnet. “She might feel she has to be the best all the time, be perfect every game. And perfection does not exist in anything in life. It’s more about taking care of yourself and being the best you can be on that day …
“That may be a struggle for a young girl, that I have to be perfect. But no one is perfect, and don’t think that you didn’t make a save because you’re a girl. Brush that off … no one’s perfect, and you didn’t make the save because you’re a goalie, and nothing else.”
Rhéaume and Campbell-Pascall also know what it feels like to be the first.
In 1992-93, Rhéaume became the first woman to play in any major North American men’s pro league, in a pair of exhibition games. Campbell-Pascall, captain of the 2006 Canadian Olympic team in Turin, was hired as Hockey Night in Canada’s first-ever female colour analyst in 2006 before joining Sportsnet’s crew in 2013.
Currie, they say, will have one advantage as she continues her career. Unlike when Rhéaume and Campbell-Pascall played, women are making significant inroads in key roles at all levels of the sport.
Last month, the Maple Leafs promoted Hall of Famer Hayley Wickenheiser to senior director of player development. She then hired former teammate Danielle Goyette as director of the same department for the Leafs and Marlies. There are nearly 100 women in hockey operations roles in the NHL today, and more than 200 in senior leadership positions.
“When I played, I was not really accepted,” said Rhéaume, 49, who played against boys from the start, including on one of Quebec’s top bantam AA teams. “When I was young, they told my father: ‘Don’t bring her to the tryout camp, she’s not going to take a spot from the boys.’”
She said her father didn’t tell her that until she was older. In addition, she recalled learning a “little secret” about her first training camp with the Lightning about 20 years after the fact.
Signed by then general manager Phil Esposito, she didn’t know coach Terry Crisp had reservations about bringing her to training camp.
“I played well in the mini-camp, and Terry then said I deserved to be in camp, that I earned the opportunity to play in the exhibition game,” said Rhéaume, who caught up with Crisp years later in her role as a broadcaster with RDS. “We were doing an interview and he … told me (about hesitating at the time). So it was all about me being a woman, but Terry (also) made a difference when he said I deserved to be there.”
Rhéaume also recalled a cautionary tale from her youth hockey career.
“There were things I had to go through when I was young … the frustration of the guys,” she said. “I remember I made a great save against one guy, and when the two teams were shaking hands after the game I went to shake his hand, and he punched me in the stomach. I never said a word. I took it … it was part of playing hockey and I knew if I wanted to keep playing with the guys, I had to shut up.”
Campbell-Pascall says times have changed, but she hopes Currie and others will use their “athlete’s mentality” to overcome any lingering stigmas.
“I know for me, when I started in broadcasting, there wasn’t another female there,” said Campbell-Pascall, 47. “I felt that pressure, but for the game — to do a good job for the game.
“The amazing thing about my broadcasting career now is that they never made me feel that I am there because I’m a woman. I tried to be myself and I used my athlete’s mentality to get better every day, and it’s helped me through my playing days, and now as a broadcaster.”
Rhéaume plans a segment on Currie for her hockey show on the Quebec arm of TSN. Rheaume’s son Dylan was selected in the OHL draft before moving on to play U.S. college hockey, while son Dakoda will be draft eligible in two years.
“I am so happy to see (Currie) got drafted,” said Rhéaume, “and that a team took a chance on her. And that she’s recognized for her talent.”
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