SASKATOON, Saskatchewan (AP) — Two-time Olympic medalist Shannon Szabados is used to facing shots in mens leagues this time of year. Now, the veteran goaltender is perfectly happy competing against women.
“I loved my time playing mens hockey,” Szabados said. “I dont know at 32 that a 65-game schedule is what my body needs.”
Szabados has been the go-to goaltender for the Canadian womens team in many world and Olympic finals since 2010. Now, shes part of Canadas team for the Four Nations Cup tournament, an annual event that also includes the United States, Sweden and Finland.
Szabados has spent the majority of her hockey career in mens leagues, starting with exhibition games for WHLs Tri-City Americans at age 16 to full seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference and the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Any sustained time in the womens game came in the winters she spent centralized with the Canadian team in Calgary preparing for Olympic Games.
Her physical needs, personal life and geography factored into the 32-year-old from Edmonton signing with the Buffalo Beauts of the five-team National Womens Hockey League.
Lorain, just west of Cleveland, Ohio, is the hometown of her partner Carl Nielsen and where Szabados wanted to move after Februarys Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“First and foremost, the decision was based on him having a good job there,” she explained. “Theyve had a jewelry store in their family for almost 400 years, so it was important for him to be there.”
Now, shes become very familiar with Interstate 90, and the 435-mile (700-kilometer) round trip from Lorain to Buffalo, New York, that she makes twice a week to play and practice with the Beauts.
“Exit 27, thats my go-to. On the way to Buffalo, theres a Shell and a Tim Hortons,” she said Thursday at the Four Nations Cup tournament.
Kim and Terry Pegula, owners of the NHLs Buffalo Sabres, purchased the Beauts in 2017.
“Its kind of a huge step for womens hockey,” Szabados said. “A lot of our staff overlap. Our media staff, one guy puts on his Sabres jacket and then he puts on his Beauts jacket.
“We get first-class treatment all around as far as facilities and how were treated.”
Szabados injured ligaments in her left knee toward the end of her second season with the Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League in 2016.
Injuries also limited her to a handful of games with the Canadian women during their 2017-18 prep for Pyeongchang.
But Szabados stopped 40 of 42 shots, including nine in overtime, in the Olympic final. The U.S. prevailed in a six-round shootout to claim gold.
Szabados became tearful after the game while talking about injuries that sidelined her for much of the season.
A healthy body that can extend her career is a priority for her now.
“I knew if I wanted to continue … I didnt have the healthiest of years last year, so it was important for me to be somewhere where I could be back to being 100 per cent,” Szabados said.
“Being on the ice seven days a week for hours upon hours and getting running over by 200-pound men was probably not the ideal situation for me health-wise. I miss it, but I enjoy where Im at.”
In 64 games for Canada, Szabados ranks second all-time in wins (47) and shutouts (17), behind Kim St. Pierre, who has 64 wins and 29 shutouts.
Szabados made 27 and 28 saves in the 2014 and 2010 Olympic womens finals, respectively, on the way to the gold medal.
She is the first player from Canadas national team to play in the NWHL. Szabados is 1-2 for the Beauts this season with a goals-against average of 1.67 and a save percentage of .938.
U.S. womens team forward Dani Cameranesi and defender Emily Pfalzer are her Beauts teammates.
How long Szabados will tend net is a year-to-year decision.
She echoes players in both the NWHL and Canadian Womens Hockey League in wishing for a merger of the two leagues.
“I think womens hockey is kind of at an exciting point right now,” Szabados said. “I would regret it if I didnt stick around to see where it goes.”