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Shannon Szabados, women's hockey star, signs with U.S. men's pro team

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 13 - Canada v United States
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Shannon Szabados won her second consecutive gold medal as the goaltender for the Canadian women's Olympic hockey team in Sochi.

Her next challenge? Backstopping a professional men's hockey team.

Szabados took to Twitter to make the announcement herself:

Well here goes nothing Heading to the @SPHL to join the @Cottonmouths for the remainder of their season See you on the 12th guys! #snakes — Shannon Szabados (@ShannonSzabados) March 7, 2014

The 27-year-old Edmonton native has signed a contract with Southern Professional Hockey League's Columbus Cottonmouths. From the Cottonmouths:

The Edmonton, AB, Canada native is a former teammate of current Snake’s players Jordan Draper, Andy Willigar and Captain Kyle Johnson at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference. Szabados’ signing will make her the first female to play hockey in the Southern Professional Hockey League since its inception ten years ago.
“I am very excited to get a world class athlete that has competed and has faced, high pressured situations. Shannon has won at every level she has played, in women’s hockey or men’s hockey,” head coach Jerome Bechard said.
“She won a championship with NATI last year alongside Andy Willigar and Jordan Draper so I know she can compete at this level. We are working on her immigration, and we are looking to sign her officially Thursday, where she will be backing up Loewen. She will play when she feels comfortable and situated.”

As mentioned in the release, this isn't Szabados' first time playing among men. Just last week she practiced with the Edmonton Oilers, who were short a goaltender after making a series of goalie swaps just before the NHL trade deadline.

"She's pretty good," Jordan Eberle said afterwards. "Once you figure that out, you try and score and put in as many as you can."

Before she became the first female to play in the SPHL, she blazed a trail in juniors, becoming the first female to play in the Western Hockey League as well as the Alberta Junior Hockey League, where she recorded a shutout in her first game.

Kevin Dineen, Szabados's Team Canada head coach, is confident that she's got what it takes to succeed in the SPHL. "I think she's going to do just fine in that environment," he said. "I don't think this is one of those gimmicky things, although I'd be naive to think that wasn't on the owner's mind. She can play. She'll be more than up to the task."

Szabados joins a short list of women’s hockey stars who laced up the skates with men’s pro teams. Manon Rheaume was the most famous example, becoming the only woman to appear in an NHL exhibition game with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992. Others, like Hayley Wickenheiser, played in men’s leagues in Europe due to a lack of opportunities for women to play professionally in North America.

The Cottonmouths' next home game is Thursday, March 13th, and a press conference has been scheduled to introduce Szabados before the game.

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