After backstopping Canada to a second straight Olympic gold (and humbling of the Americans), Shannon Szabados made some history for women’s hockey last season.
She practiced with the Edmonton Oilers, and seemed in line to be an emergency backup for them. She also signed with the Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League, playing two games in the regular season and one period on the playoffs – in the process becoming the first woman to play in that U.S.-based minor league.
Szabados is back again this season for Columbus; and lest anyone think this is some sort of gimmick or stunt, know that she’s set to play a full season in the SPHL with upwards of 20 potential starts – including opening night on Oct. 24 against Knoxville.
"I want to get that first win for her really bad," [coach Jerome] Bechard said. "We play 56 games. In my mind, right off the bat, the plan is for her to get 20 games, if not more. I guess time will tell and we'll see."
She had a 3.56 GAA in two games, with a save percentage of 0.894 in the regular season, losing twice.
While Szabados will have to compete with Andrew Loewen for time, Bechard admittedly is a fan:
"I wouldn't bring her in if she wasn't legit and didn't give us an opportunity to win," Bechard said. "She is probably one of the most technical goalies I've seen.
"If she's susceptible, it would be on a rebound, back-door goal because she is a little smaller than Andrew and some of the other goalies. But she's pretty acrobatic and goes side to side with the best of them. She's really key on making that first save look simple and not giving up the rebounds."
She’s also a stone-cold badass. Seriously. I know the usual concerns about women goalies playing in predominantly male leagues – the lack of height and girth, some concerns about reaction time – but Szabados and Noora Raty, Finland’s goalie who is competing in that nation’s second-tier pro league, are exceptional. Both deserve their shot to shatter this glass ceiling at the position.
It may not lead to a woman playing in the NHL any time soon, but it’s going to lead to more three-and-a-half-year-old girls watching her, meeting her and having that spark of obsession to one day become the next Shannon Szabados. And that’s just as important to the growth of the women’s game as anything.
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