Shannon Szabados, goaltender for the Southern Professional Hockey League’s (SPHL) Columbus Cottonmouths, geared up for the three-on-three pro camp and had her work cut out for her.
“There’s only been three [goalies] for the last few days, so it’s been a lot of work,” she said.
One of six goalies on the list, the 5-foot-9 netminder is keen for the challenge the men bring on the ice.
“It’s fun,” said Szabados. “You know, any hockey player wants to play against the best players you can. So for me, it’s exciting to be out here and just try to work on things and learn from some of them. More than anything just get a good workout in and try to develop before camp.”
Designed to prepare players for competitive fall camps, Perry Pearn’s program features a variety of high-tempo skill-oriented drills followed by three-versus-three half-ice games.
“It’s awesome,” said Szabados. “It’s two hours on the ice with NHL and AHL players, so it’s pretty high-intensity. We’re all getting ready for camp, the guys are getting ready for camp, it gets pretty intense out there, like I said, a good kick-start to get ready.”
Szabados isn’t the first woman to showcase her skill set at Pearn’s hockey camp.
Though she is currently treading her own path in the world of professional hockey, Szabados joins the ranks of some of the elite few — such as Canadian Women’s National Hockey Team Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser — who have broken through the gender barrier in sports.
“I think on the ice the guys are a lot bigger, they skate a little faster, shoot a little harder, and I think in the women’s game they play a little bit of a smarter game to make up for that,” said Szabados.
“They’re not going to power through with the puck or in the corners, or things like that, so a little more puck possession is in the girls game. As a goalie you almost have to clean up your game a bit in the women’s game.”
The Edmonton native has been making waves in hockey since she was five-years-old, playing with boys and men her entire career, with the exception of playing full time with the Canadian Women’s National Hockey Team.
But with the recent development of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), fans wonder if she may start looking at new opportunities.
“I’ve definitely thought about it,” said Szabados.
|Szabados prepares to block a shot in a 3-on-3 session. |
“I think I’m pretty happy with where I am and with my team. Right now the [NWHL] is just developing — there’s four teams — so not a ton of games yet. Hopefully the league will continue to develop and then maybe down the road it’s something I’ll look in to.”
Though Szabados isn’t looking to make a change any time soon, she recognizes that it’s a huge leap forward for women in sports.
“It’s exciting for women’s hockey,” she said. “It’s a league where the girls are going to get paid and make a lifestyle. I don’t know if it’s enough to fully live off of but you know it’s better than what we’ve been getting. I’m excited for them and I’m excited to see where it goes.”
THE TWITTERVERSE EXPLODES
In 2014, a fan-frenzy of support saw Szabados break new ground.
Less than a month after the 2014 Winter Olympics, where Szabados helped the Canadian Women’s Hockey Team win their third-straight Olympic gold medal, a social media campaign was launched when the Oilers were in need of an emergency backup goaltender for Ben Scrivens while waiting for the arrival of newly acquired goalie Viktor Fasth.
Fans wanted to see Szabados take the spot, and though the Oilers opted for the University of Alberta Golden Bears goaltender Kurtis Mucha, Szabados was asked to practice with the team the very next day.
“The practice was fun,” said Szabados.
“One unique thing was that it was on trade deadline day, so it was kind of cool to see the atmosphere in the room. I think the most I’ll take out of it was you know how respectful the guys were, the Oilers organization is first-class and they treated me really well when I was there.”
A few days later, it was announced that Szabados had been signed to a professional contract with the Columbus Cottonmouths to finish out the 2013-14 season and become the first female to play with an SPHL team.
With a track record of firsts under her belt — She became the first and only female to play in the WHL — there may be more to come with the opening of Rogers Place on the horizon, and Szabados looks forward to it happening in her hometown.
“I’m excited to see it,” she said. “It’s crazy to drive by it every day and see the development and how far it’s come. And I know talking to (Nail) Yakupov and some of the guys, they’re really excited for it. I think it will be a cool atmosphere for the players and the fans.”