Female Olympic Goalie Joins Men's Pro Hockey League

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After winning a gold medal in Sochi as a member of the Canadian national team, Shannon Szabados signed with the Columbus Cottonmouths, a men's team in the Southern Professional Hockey League. (Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
After winning a gold medal in Sochi as a member of the Canadian national team, Shannon Szabados signed with the Columbus Cottonmouths, a men's team in the Southern Professional Hockey League. (Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

The Canadian women’s ice hockey team won gold in Sochi after a dramatic come-from-behind win over the United States. Perhaps no individual was more crucial to that result than 27-year-old goalie Shannon Szabados, who’s recently signed with the Columbus Cottonmouths of Columbus, Ga., thus becoming the first woman to play in the Southern Professional Hockey League. She joined Bill Littlefield on Only A Game.

BL: You participated in the morning skate before Thursday night’s game. Any surprises?

SS: No, it was fun to be a part of. I’m a little rusty and a little behind, but it was fun.

BL: Columbus lost 5-0 on Thursday with you on the bench. I know you’ve just joined the team, but as goals 3, 4, and 5 went in did you find yourself thinking, “Hey, maybe I’ll get a shot in the goal tonight.”

[sidebar title="Women Breaking Into Men's Sports" align="right"]In 2013, a female placekicker struggled during a tryout for the NFL and was criticized by another female kicker.[/sidebar]SS: No, I don’t think so. I mean, sometimes if the goalie’s playing bad — or whatever the reason may be — but our goalie’s playing good. It was just one of those games playing the first-place team. I know the guys weren’t happy with the way they played, but it wasn’t really going through my mind, but [I was] definitely ready if I needed to.

BL: Some of your teammates watched the Olympics, I’m told, and some have said they regard you as a celebrity. Has anybody asked for your autograph or if they can see the gold medal?

SS: No, not an autograph. They keep asking me if I brought the gold medal. Or they asked me, when I got here, the first day. Couple of them that I hadn’t met before — one, actually is an American, asked me over Twitter if I brought it. But, no, I didn’t bring it over here. I haven’t even seen half my friends or family, so I left it back home for them to take a look at.

BL: I’m curious about whether any of the American players on the team are kind of miffed that it wasn’t the American women who won the gold medal in Sochi because that rivalry between the Canadian and American women has been so terrific.

SS: They’re pretty excited either way. I think it was a great game, and I know that our Canadian boys here give them a hard time about the game, but it’s all in good fun. And I think they were just happy to watch a game that ended in that manner.

BL: Now, I understand that you and three of your Columbus teammates have played on the same team before at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. Have Andy Willigar, Jordan Draper and Kyle Johnson helped you to make the transition to the men’s pro team?

[My teammates] keep asking me if I brought the gold medal.

Shannon Szabados

Especially as a female, when you’re going to a new team, it can be a little tough and maybe not fit in as well, but having those guys here, it feels like I’ve been on this team for the entire year, so it’s been really fun.

BL: I can understand why you’d say it might be tough to fit in except you come with a resume. I mean you have a terrific record in the goal. They must be aware of that.

SS: I feel like the older I’ve gotten the easier it’s been. The more mature the guys are, so I’ve never really had any issues. Just, you know, being the new person, and especially being female, sometimes that might make it a little awkward or you don’t know the guys as well as you would. But it’s been an easy transition. They’re a pretty close-knit group.

BL: Tell me a little bit about what you hope to accomplish there with the Cottonmouths.

SS: Well, I mean they only have four games left this year and then right into playoffs, so coach wanted me to come in and take a spot and help the guys in any way I can. Obviously maybe get into a game or two before playoffs, but not looking to do much, just help the team out and see how it is and hopefully get a feel for what it’s like down here and in the league and hopefully come back next year.

BL: You’ve had a run with the Canadian woman’s national team, and I know how important that team is to Canadians. How big a deal is minor league hockey in Georgia?

SS: I’ve only been here for two days, but the response I’ve gotten has been overwhelming. The people I’ve met here in Columbus have been awesome, extremely friendly, and I’m just excited to see what the league’s about and what Columbus is like and just get a feel for it.

BL: Has anybody down there given you a hard time for saying “about?"

SS: Not yet, but I’m sure they will.

BL: Well, you can kid ‘em back about their southern accents anyway.

SS: I know, everyone I’ve met, they always say “y’all.” I haven’t said anything yet but if they use the “about” to me, I’ll throw that at them.

This segment aired on March 15, 2014.


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