EDMONTON -- Shannon Szabados is an accomplished goaltender in women's ice hockey, having won Olympic gold with Canada in 2010 and 2014.
She's much more accustomed to playing against men, though.
Szabados, 29, grew up playing on boys' teams and is a member of the Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Playing against women, however, is a different story.
"I always get asked, 'What's it like playing with guys?' But honestly, the question should be: What's it like playing with girls? That is more foreign to me," Szabados said this week after participating in Perry Pearn's 3-on-3 Hockey Camp, which included several NHL players. "I've been playing with guys since I was 5 years old and the only time I've played on women's teams is with the national team, and we're only full-time in an Olympic year. So for me, it's what I'm used to and accustomed to, I guess."
It was Szabados' first time as a full participant in Pearn's camp, which helps professional players prepare for the upcoming season. Pearn, an assistant with the Vancouver Canucks, has been running the camp in Edmonton for the past 24 years.
Szabados is the third woman to take part in the camp. Canadian Olympians Meaghan Mikkelson and Hayley Wickenheiser have attended in the past.
"I've been out once before when they needed a goalie for a day or two, but this is my first time doing the full two weeks," Szabados said. "It was awesome. It was a lot of work. This week, we mostly only had the three goalies out, so it's been a lot of shots and some good quality ones, so you can't complain. It's unbelievable when you think most guys our here are in the NHL or AHL and on their way there. It's definitely the best shooters you can ask for."
After getting the full camp experience this year, Szabados said she plans on returning.
"I get an invite every summer in the mail, but I just haven't been home in the past," the Edmonton native said. "But now that I've seen what it's like and the guys that are out there, how can you say no? I'll be back every summer as long as I'm in town."
Szabados is counting on her experience at the camp to help in her second season with the Cottonmouths. She was approached about possibly joining the new National Women's Hockey League but decided to keep playing against men.
"I got some emails and some information about it, but I don't think any of the Canadian Olympians are going," she said. "For me, I was happy where I was. I got to play a lot. We played 56 games last year, and this year there are even more teams, so we might get to play even more.
"I started 25 games, and the [women's] league is just starting up and I think they only have four teams, so there are not a ton of games. I'll keep my eye on it, see how it develops and maybe in the future take a look at going to play there."
Szabados has a long history of playing on men's teams. She was the first female to play in The Brick Invitational Hockey Tournament in Edmonton, which has featured a number of players who moved on to the NHL. At 15, she became the first female to play in the Mac's Midget AAA Hockey Tournament in Calgary.
Szabados has also played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, had a brief stint in the Western Hockey League and played four years of college hockey in Edmonton.
Following Canada's gold-medal victory against the United States at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Szabados was invited to fill in at practice with the Edmonton Oilers.
"I really don't consider myself a pioneer," Szabados said. "For me, it's weird because to me, I'm just one of the players on the ice like everyone else. Obviously, I know there is a little bit of a difference, with me being a female, but I try not to think of that too much. It feels weird to me when people ask me about groundbreaking and things like that. I was asked the other day if I've accomplished what I want to prove? But I'm not trying to prove anything; I just want to play hockey the same as any other 5-year old kid when they lace up the skates. Like any other hockey player, I want to play at the highest level possible, and that's kind of the path I've been taking."
Last season with Columbus, Szabados had a 15-9-1 record with a 3.12 goals-against average and .907 save percentage. She hopes to continue playing professionally while looking ahead to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics in South Korea.
"It's still three years away, so we'll see how my body holds up," Szabados said. "We'll take it year by year for now. I feel really good. I was really happy with my season last year, and now that I have kind of got a feel for pro hockey, hopefully I'll have a good year, and we'll see where that takes me."