By Neil Becker
It’s no secret that women’s hockey has gained immense popularity all over the world.
Various women’s gold medal tournament games have attracted a large number of television viewers and helped create in 2015 the National Women’s Hockey League (who rebranded as the Premier Hockey Federation in September 2021). The league has grown since its inception, from four to six teams, with plans to expand into Montreal.
Since the evolution of competitive women’s hockey, numerous elite players have gone down in history for not only their on-ice achievements but also for being trailblazers in the sport.
Among those skilled trailblazers is 28-year-old First Nations defence Brigette Lacquette, who prides herself in being an inspiration to the up-and-coming Indigenous hockey players.
Lacquette, who grew up four hours north of Winnipeg in Mallard, Manitoba, made history in 2018 by becoming the first Indigenous player to compete on Canada’s national women’s hockey team, which played in Pyeongchang and won Olympic silver.
“To represent Canada being the first First Nation is such an honour to me,” Lacquette told Brad Bellegarde from CBC News.
Upon finding out that his daughter made the Team Canada 2018 Women’s hockey team, her father, Terance Lacquette, was very emotional.
“My first words to her were, ‘Congratulations, my girl. You definitely earned it. You deserve it.’ And tears definitely began to fall on my face, for sure,” Lacquette told Janice Grant from CBC News.
After the Olympics, Lacquette’s accomplishments were celebrated when her game played 2018 Olympics hockey stick was given to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Right away, it was put on display for fans to admire in the hall’s diversity exhibit.
During her career, Lacquette has celebrated numerous achievements, such as in 2010 when she played a huge role in helping Canada celebrate its first gold medal at the World Women’s IIHF U-18 Championships.
In showing her offensive flair, Lacquette registered two goals and 13 points as she was named the best defenceman during the championships. Her best moment came when she assisted in overtime on the eventual gold medal-winning goal.
Other gold medal accomplishments include in 2013 when she produced three points in helping Canada celebrate gold at the 2013 U-22 Meco Cup tournament.
A year later, she helped Team Canada win NWDT Nations Cup gold. Meanwhile, also among Lacquette’s accomplishments, was helping Canada achieve silver at the 2015 4 Nations Cup, 2016 4 Nations Cup, 2017 4 Nations Cup and the 2018 4 Nations Cup. Lacquette, whose father is from the O-Chi-Chak Ko Sipi First Nation in Manitoba, and mother from Cote First Nation in Saskatchewan, grew up as a huge admirer of former NHLer Jordin Tootoo. Growing up, this talented defenceman played in various indigenous tournaments and was a standout at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Playing in the CWHL, another highlight occurred in 2016 when she helped the Calgary Inferno capture the Clarkson Cup.
“One of my memories would be playing in the (Saskatchewan First Nations) Winter Games with the Yorkton Tribal Council,” Lacquette told CBC News.
During a spring tournament in Winnipeg, a 12-year-old Bridgette Lacquette showed tremendous character when she faced some strong racist taunts from an opposing team. Her father had a special message which helped her rebound from the taunts.
“And I just said, You know what, just beat them on the ice. There’s not a whole lot that we can do. Some people are going to be like that. They’re going to make comments like that. And that’s what she did. She just put her mind to it that you know, ‘I’m not going to let anybody take this away from me,’ and she did it. She persevered and she’s overcome it,” her father told Brad Bellegarde from CBC News. Needless to say, she kept going in hockey and has become the perfect role model and trendsetter for young indigenous players, especially girls who aspire to play hockey. It’s a role she takes pride in.
“I’m super excited to be that role model for those kids,” Lacquette said on her Wikipedia page. “Growing up I really didn’t have that female role to look up to. It’s just very special for me to be that role model for young First Nation girls across Canada, Indigenous kids across Canada. I’m just super excited to be that person for them.”
Another iconic trailblazer who helped knock down barriers in women’s hockey is former Quebec goalie Manon Rheaume. In September, she had a bronze statue honouring her accomplishments unveiled in Quebec City.
Rheaume first made hockey history by becoming the first female to compete with an all-male team back in 1984 at the legendary Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament. Years later, she would go on to become a household name with hockey fans around the globe when on September 23, 1992, she made hockey history by skating out and playing a period in an exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues. Rheaume, who was only 20 years old at the time, asserted herself well as she allowed only two goals on nine shots. She also played an exhibition game the following year. Remarkably, Rheaume was the first female to compete in North American professional sports.
“Now, looking back, I realize how big of a deal it was,” Rheaume told Tracey Meyers from NHL.com in 2019. “When I was young and got invited, it happened so fast and I didn’t realize really the impact I would have on people, on history, on everything when I went there. I just went because it was amazing to play at the highest level. Now, looking back, no other female has done that, and not only in hockey, but the four major sports.”
This elite goaltender played a pivotal role in helping the Canadian Women’s national ice hockey team clinch gold at the 1992 and ‘94 IIHF Women’s World Championship. Rheaume also shone at the 1998 Nagano Olympics in helping the Canadian Women’s team win silver.
In the 1992-93 season, Rheaume played two games with the International Hockey League’s Atlanta Knights. The following year she made her mark in the East Coast Hockey League, where she played four games for both the Knoxville Cherokees and Nashville Knights. Other stops in what was a trendsetting career saw her in 1994-95 play a game for the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks and two in the International Hockey League with the Las Angeles Thunder. During the 1996-97 campaign, Rheaume played 11 games in the WCHL with the Reno Renegades. Other stops included playing one game in 2000-01 with the NWHL’s Montreal Wingstar and a single game in 2008-09 with the IHL’s Flint Generals.
To summarize, Rheaume is the first female to compete at the International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament, first to compete in a major junior game, first to make an appearance in an NHL game, and the first woman to get a win in a professional roller hockey game.
No doubt that Rheaume was the trendsetter for young female goalies playing competitively against boys.
During the final weekend of January 2019, women’s hockey history was written in San Jose at the NHL All-Star skills competition. Earning a big assist was the Colorado Avalanche organization, who, after their star forward Nathan MacKinnon couldn’t participate, reached out to Team USA dynamic forward Kendall Coyne Schofield. She was asked to take MacKinnon’s place in the fastest skater event.
Coyne Schofield, a gold medal winner with the U.S.A. women’s national team replied,
“My first impression was like, I can do this,” she said. “My speed is definitely my strength. Obviously, I was a little nervous but I knew it was a moment that would break a lot of barriers and change the perception of our game and show support to our game,” Coyne Schofield told Josh Dubow from Associated Press.
The 26-year-old went against some stiff competition in the likes of Columbus Blue Jackets Cam Atkinson, New York Islanders Matt Barzel, Buffalo Sabres Jack Eichel, Phoenix Coyotes Clayton Keller, Dallas Stars Heiskanen, Vancouver Canucks Elias Pettersson and the Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid, who won the event with a time of 14.346.
Schofield opened up eyes among players and hockey fans from coast to coast, who finished the fastest skater event with an impressive time of 14.346. “It was a no-brainer,” she said about participating. “Obviously, it’s a huge honor to be the first woman to take part in the NHL Skills competition. It was surreal,” Coyne Schofield said to the Los Angeles Times. For the record, Coyne Schofield, who topped out at 22 mph, finished seventh. This 2018 Team USA Olympic gold medalist will always be remembered as the first woman to participate in an NHL all-star skills competition.
Meanwhile, a fourth historic trailblazer in women’s hockey is Hockey Hall of Famer and former Team Canada women’s captain, Hayley Wickenheiser. During her career playing for Canada, this centerman put together quite an impressive resume, which included gold medals in the 2002 (Salt Lake), 2006 (Torino), 2010 (Vancouver) and 2014 (Sochi) Olympic games. She also helped Canada win silver at the 1998 Olympic games, which were held in Nagano. Wickenheiser’s other achievements include playing a pivotal role in helping the Canadian women’s team win seven World Championship gold medals in 1994, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2007 and 2021. She also helped Canada to silver in 2005, 2008 and 2009.
Wickenheiser, who in November 2019 became the seventh female elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame, made history in 1998 when she became the first female to participate at an NHL training camp. She got invited by Philadelphia Flyers GM Bob Clarke to compete against the guys at the July prospects camp. It was an opportunity for the 19-year-old Wickenheiser to test her skills by going head-to-head against unsigned players selected by the Flyers organization along with players who were selected in that June’s draft. Wickenheiser, who is 5’9” and 170 pounds, also got invited back and participated in the 1999 Flyers rookie camp. A few years later, on January 10, 2003, Wickenheiser wrote another chapter in her Hall of Fame career as she debuted for HC Salamat in Finland's third-division men's league. She became the first woman competing in a semi-professional men's league to score a goal.
Wickenheiser ended up tallying two goals and 12 points in 23 games. The following season she played only ten games with the team before moving on in her career. She proved that female players could, in fact, hold their own playing against professional men.
These four female players are just a few of the many players who have helped kick down barriers and prove to be solid role models for today’s generation and those young female players of the future.