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It's a chicken and egg question; what came first, the movie in the works on the life and times of Manon Rhéaume, the first woman to get a chance to suit up for an NHL team, or the about-to-be-released book, aimed at younger readers?
The tricky query is posited to Rhéaume and Angie Bullaro, partners in both projects, virtual sisters in reality, looking alike and often jumping in to finish thoughts during the three-way phone call in early September.
“The movie actually. We've been working on the film now for almost five years. And, Manon, I don't know if you remember ...” Bullaro said, drawing Rhéaume, the goalie turned coach and administrator, into the conversation.
After discussing the movie project with her friends and colleagues, Bullaro was encouraged to write something up. The result is Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League. It's Bullaro's words, Rhéaume's story and her afterword and timeline, complimented by the artwork of veteran illustrator C. F. Payne (CFPayne.com).
Bullaro (https://www.angiebullaro.com) had seen the “Who Is?” series of books, and thought Rhéaume was a good fit. With a couple of years teaching under her belt, complimenting her years as an actress on stage, on TV, in commercials, and screenwriting experience, Bullaro took her best shot, and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers took a chance on a new author.
“It's always been about inspiring people, particularly young kids, and particularly young girls. And so then, we talked about a children's book,” Bullaro said. The plan grew, hand in hand with the film project.
“After I read the script of the movie, I knew that any kind of writing would be her,” said Rhéaume. “But we collaborated together on the writing of the script and the book as far as getting all the information about my story and how things happened and things like that; but as far as writing, she's the genius.”
It was tough to decide what to keep in and what to drop from a rich story like Rhéaume's. Her youth in Beauport, Quebec, is a natural, since it's a book aimed at kids from kindergarten to Grade 3, and then getting to play in junior hockey and, finally, invited to training camp with the Tampa Bay Lightning by general manager Phil Esposito. She suited up for an exhibition game on September 23, 1992, making history. But the book stops there, leaving out Rhéaume's rich contributions to Canada's women's team, playing in a number of men's minor leagues, and, later, marriage, children, coaching, and everything else.
“I think that is one of the most difficult parts about writing for children, that often people don't realize is that you have a limited number of words,” said Bullaro. “So every single word that is in a book has been so carefully chosen, because that's it, you can't write and write and write. Manon's story is so amazing. I just want to read hundreds and hundreds of pages about it. Then to break it down into less than 40-some pages, is really quite difficult.”
Naturally, that brings up a discussion about Rhéaume's first book, Manon: Alone in Front of the Net, which came out in 1993.
Rhéaume said that only a couple of days previously, on the Zoom call with the under-12 team that she coaches, one girl told her that her grandmother had just bought her the 1993 book. (Pandemic rules had kept them from practising.) “Young girls, especially young girls that play hockey, they research me, they do stuff on me at school,” Rhéaume said. “And so right now, when girls play hockey, their grandmother or uncle, buy them that book.”
It's akin to being in the middle of the hurricane, and not realizing the impact beyond the eye of the storm; it took Rhéaume a while to comprehend what her accomplishment meant to others.
“I didn't realize the impact that it had on people because it was just playing the game that I love. It's not until later that I realized that I really impacted people in a positive way and people to go for after their dreams,” Rhéaume said.
That brings it back to the movie. It's called Between the Pipes, and it is a feature-length film that has been in the works for a few years now. (https://www.betweenthepipesmovie.com) Unlike the book, it has permission to use official NHL logos.
Bullaro and her husband, run Lazy Kitty Productions out of New York City. They approached Rhéaume, who lives outside Detroit, and Michigan is where Bullaro grew up.
What they didn't expect was to become best friends. “We're always talking. We get a lot that we're twins and all that, and it really did become a whole different deeper relationship after five years,” said Bullaro.
“I remember first thing she said,” recalled Rhéaume. “I want to do this. I want to have a female lead and I want to inspire people.” That sold the goalie on the project.
Their friendship is on display in a series of videos and media appearances as early hype for their projects.
Rhéaume continues to follow the Lightning, and said that she sat in her car, listening to the crazy five-overtime game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on August 12, 2020, because she couldn't be near a TV. She's kept in touch with Esposito, and spoke to the Hockey Hall of Famer recently. “He's always been great to me. I said, 'Thank you very much, I've got a book coming out.' It's nice that we still have some kind of communication.”
With Breaking the Ice hitting shelves on October 20, the focus needs to shift back to the film.
“We're still in development, we're raising the last of the funds. COVID changed quite a few things, pushed back some plans we had, because we're still not able to be on set—and especially a film like this which requires so many people, so many actors, in a lot of these hockey scenes,” said Bullaro, using the Lightning training camp with at least 80 players in 1992 as an example. “A lot of things in the movie are really large scale which does not work well with COVID ... it just makes it even more like Manon's story of not giving up, keep pushing on no matter what.”
Manon Rhéaume and Angie Bullaro
HOCKEY SUPER SIX HITS THE ICE
While Manon Rhéaume is a hero to many girls who play hockey, veteran children's author Kevin Sylvester (Neil Flambé, Sports Hall of Weird, etc.) is back into hockey (who has the Leacock-award winning Shadrin Has Scored for Russia? I do!), with Hockey Super Six: The Puck Drops Here, the beginning of a series of “six ordinary kids with super hockey skills against the forces of evil.” Their foe is “Clarence Crosscheck.” The second book is on its way, On Thin Ice. Ya gotta love that there's a French version already too, Les super six du hockey 1 : Mise au jeu glaciale.
LITTLE WONDER, LITTLE HOCKEY
There's a new book entitled Little Wonder: The Fabulous Story of Lottie Dod, the World’s First Female Sports Superstar, and when I saw a reference to it, there was a mention of hockey. Sold. Tennis and hockey? Well, not so much. In Sasha Abramsky's incredibly well-researched book about the former Wimbleton winner, golf champion, silver medalist archer at the 1908 Olympics, there is a little about hockey—never called field hockey. The single reference to ice hockey is when the amazing Ms. Dod learned how to skate like the wind in the Swiss Alps, and tried out ice hockey in a picturesque locale. Still, if you love herstory, it's a good one.
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