Shannon Szabados was named the starting goaltender for the Columbus Cottonmouths Saturday in the Southern Professional Hockey League – yet, she has no idea against whom she will be playing.
“I’m not sure,” she says over the telephone from Columbus, Ga. (Forgive her. It’s the Knoxville Ice Bears.)
And in her debut she made 27 saves in her men's professional hockey league later in the day, although her Columbus Cottonmouths fell 4-3 to the Knoxville Ice Bears. The Cottonmouths are 25-25-3 in the 10-team SPHL and have secured a berth in the playoffs.
It’s been that kind of month: Szabados came home to Edmonton from Sochi, Russia, with her second consecutive Olympic gold medal hanging about her neck.
Her next moment wearing the heavy pads and standing in a goal crease is against NHL stars Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at an Edmonton Oilers practice.
Then, she’s off to Columbus, where she signs a pro contract, gets a single practice in and then skates, just to get a feel for the Columbus Civic Center, in the warm-up before her new team’s game last Thursday against the league-leading Pensacola Ice Flyers. The Ice Flyers pound the “Snakes” 5-0 and, next thing she knows, she’s tapped to start against the Ice Bears.
By 7, she had decided goal was for her. She spent her summers at a Sylvan Lake, Alta., goalie school run by former Oilers goaltender Bill Ranford.
She excelled at every level, playing junior hockey for the Sherwood Park Crusaders and then the Fort Saskatchewan Traders.
She easily made the men’s team at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology where she played with Draper, Johnson and Willigar.
It was Johnson, in fact, who pushed her résumé at Columbus head coach Jerome (Boom Boom) Bechard, who, given the fact he’d racked up nearly 2,000 minutes in penalties during his own minor-league career, could hardly have been expected to embrace such an idea. However, Johnson persisted and Bechard was open to the idea after seeing how well Szabados had done in Sochi.
“Maybe for me, it was a little bit selfish,” Johnson told The New York Times. “I want to win – and she’s won at every level she’s competed at. There’s not a doubt in my mind that she’s going to do well here.”