thanks to Shannon's dad for this action shot

thanks to Shannon's dad for this action shot

Those who suggest that women don’t have what it takes to play the men’s game obviously have never met Shannon Szabados.  She appeared in the WHL at age 16 and four years later was named an all-star and top goalie of the AJHL (Alberta Junior Hockey League).  At 5’8″  and 147 lbs Shannon proved that it wasn’t necessary to be a giant in the net in order to play big.  Seems only natural that she would take her place on the Team Canada’s Women’s roster, posting a shutout in her rookie debut against the US in 2006, on national TV to boot.  Following Team Canada’s silver medal performance at the World Championships in Finland two weeks ago, Shannon took a break from final exam preparations and graciously gave us this interview.

Q:  Can you fill us in a bit about your background in hockey and who your role models were or are? In an earlier interview with Kim and Charline, they talked about their goaltending style and some particular aspects of the women’s game. Can you tell us about your own style? Can you also tell whether you adapt or change your game when you go from competing with men and then with women? How is it to go from getting lots of shots (with your club team) to few shots (with the National team)?

I started playing hockey at age 5 and have been a goalie since I was 7. My first full year as a goalie my parents enrolled me into a goalie school run by Bill Ranford and he was (and still is) my idol growing up. I was fortunate enough to end up teaching at the goalie school and am still in contact with Bill.

I’m a butterfly style goalie and try to make use of my athletic ability and reactions. I feel one of the biggest differences in the men’s and women’s games is patience and timing. In the men’s game it’s a lot of reaction saves because of the hard passes and shots, whereas the women’s game they tend to read the play more, so as a goalie you have to be patient and make the right save choices.

I averaged over 40 shots a game this year with my college team and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love being in games where the goalie can be the difference maker.  When you’re facing that many shots a night you have that opportunity. With Team Canada however, there are nights we only see 10 shots and that’s just a credit to our team’s strong defensive play. Those nights aren’t always the most exciting but they are sometimes the games you have to be the most focused because your team is playing so well.  If it’s a tight game you don’t want to give up that goal on one of the few chances the opposition gets.

Q:  You’ve chosen not to take the US college route that some of your teammates have. Can you explain why? How do you feel about the opportunities that women your age have to develop here in Canada vs. going south of the border. Are the opportunities and resources equal?

I played in the Western Hockey League when I was 16 so I gave up my eligibility to play college in the US. It was a decision I made years ago and I wouldn’t change it if I could. I play on the Men’s team at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton, Alberta and I love it. The school knows my situation with the National Team and does a lot for me to help better my game and get me to that next level. I’ve loved every minute of my Canadian College experience and i’m sure all the girls who attended a US College would say the same about their schools. Its all about personal preference.

Q:  Please comment on how hard or not hard it was to share the net as 3 goalies, and what feelings you had about Coach Davidson not giving much advance notice to whom she might choose as game time approached. Which games did you play in during the tournament? After winning in the final at the 4 Nations Cup three years ago, how tough was it to not play more? Does this experience change your feelings about being part of the National Program?

It’s tough having 3 goalies competing for ice time but at the same time it’s probably the best situation for the team and Mel. Most teams have a bona fide number one and a backup, but with us I think Mel has confidence to throw any one of us into the fire. We just have to be prepared to play at any time.

I actually played my first ever game with the National team in the opener of the 4 Nations cup 3 years ago against the US, live on national television. As a rookie going into the tournament it kind of caught me off gaurd when Mel told me that I would be starting that game. It went well and I got my first win and first shutout with a 3-0 victory. The year after that at 4 Nations I was given the start in the final game against the US and we ended up winning 2-0 to take home the gold. As the youngest of the 3 goalies I know that I have to pay my dues and that my time will come. All I can do is continue to play well when I get the opportunity and the rest will take care of itself.

Q:  Can you tell us about your interaction with National team goalie consultant Dave Jamieson? How often did or does he work with you? Would a full time dedicated goalie coach be beneficial? Do you have a goalie coach with your current team?

Jamer is awesome, he really knows his stuff and has helped me out alot. During non Olympic years he travels to all the camps and tournments when the team gets together, and from my understanding this year he will be flying back and forth to Calgary where we will be centralized for the year. He is a teacher back home so he will try to juggle the two. I haven’t had a goalie coach with my club team for years so whenever he is around I eat it up and try to get the most out of it.

Q:  You are 23 years old now. Are you satisfied with where you are in hockey? What goals do you have, whether it be with the National Program or in men’s hockey?

Well I’m actually 22 (haha). I think I’ve had a great career to date but I’m still young and have lots of aspirations. I want to take my career as far as I can and would like to add an Olympic gold medal and possibly play some pro hockey on the men’s side of the game.

Q:  Can you give any advice or encouragement to young girls playing hockey in a league with boys? (a fair number of my students at our goalie school are girls!)

Always remember that there will always be people waiting for you to fail, but there will be that many more rooting for you to succeed! Dont let the naysayers get you down, just work hard, prove them all wrong, and follow your dream!

Q:  Your Team Canada mask with the oversize Maple Leaf has a sort of retro look (in my opinion) and reminds me of a mask that Doug Favell wore with the Leafs way back in the 70’s (yes, I am really old I know…) Where did the design come from? Who makes your mask and who does your art?

The mask I wore with the giant leaf on it was actually given to me at my first ever team camp. I got to choose from 5 or 6 and thats the one i chose. It was in a “design a mask” contest that Hockey Canada put on and that was the design that won the contest. I got a new mask in January however that I wear now. Half the mask is red and the other half is black. On the front is a picture of the tatoo I have on my ankle which is a Hockey Canada leaf with a tribal design on each side, outlined in gold. On each side is a cool looking leaf that was drawn by Mike Copeland who plays on my team at Grant MacEwan. Dan Lessard at Rembrants Brush (www.rembrantsbrush.com) painted the mask for me.

Q:  Which do you think is a bigger obstacle to a woman playing pro hockey in the ECHL, AHL, NHL or in Europe: the size and strength issue, the skill level or people’s attitudes needing to change?

People’s attitudes…
I would like to play pro hockey after the 2010 Olympics at some point but it’s all about getting an opportunity. There are tons of guys that play in my league that either come from or end up playing pro hockey so I know I the skill level isn’t an issue.  It’s all about getting a chance. (Team Canada Captain Hayley) Wickenheiser is proving it can be done over in Sweden where she is playing, and there are other players at the National level as well that i’m sure could be there.

Obviously it must have been a disappointment for Shannon and the rest of her teammates to lose in the final at the World Championships to arch-rival Team USA.  If anything, it sets the stage for another intense confrontation between the two teams at the 2010 Olympics.  Hopefully Shannon will be there to backstop Canada’s quest to retake the womens’ world crown in front of a partisan crowd in Vancouver.

More info on Shannon can be found on her website//www.shannonszabados.com

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10 Responses to Interview with Shannon Szabados: One-on-one with Team Canada’s Youngest Star Goalie

  1. Brad Penner says:

    the reason why girls dont get a chance at pro hockey is because they dont have the strength or skill. There is absolutely no way any women will ever play more than a few games professionally

  2. paul szabo says:

    Hi Brad;
    Thanks for your comment! In reply I would simply say that there are a ton of examples from the sporting world of things that were supposed to be “impossible”; the 4 minute mile, the ultra marathon, a black guy winning at the Olympics, a woman summiting Everest, Russians in the NHL who could give and take a body check, etc. Moreoever, I think that it is part of the Canadian sports culture to root for the underdog, and women in hockey are just one more example. How many times do you suppose Theo Fleury or Martin St. Louis were told they were too small for the NHL? Hayley Wickenheiser played 21 games in the Swedish 1st division, which is a fair number considering how short their season is. As far as Shannon Szabados is concerned, my understanding was that she never played with anyone but boys and men before making the Olympic team. If she was named MVP goalie of the league, it must be because she was better than all the guys…

  3. Tony Colclough says:

    I’ve seen her play in the Alberta Junior Hockey League(AJHL) for a few years. She is just as good as most goalies were at the junior level. I believe if she was givin the chance she could excell at any level including the pro ranks. I hope she is givin the chance to prove it.

  4. 2honest4u says:

    The natural progression from “Learn to Skate” is to play hockey or go into figure skating. Then as a parent you look at your little boy or girl and make the decision. There is no right or wrong choice at this point. It is very cute to watch 4 year olds with a stick and puck, every once in a while doing something that resembles hockey. As they grow what was acceptable is no longer. More so when your daughter becomes a better goalie than their counterpart of the opposite sex. Then sex overcomes skill and girls must not only continue to refine their goaltending ability but mature emotionally and mentally stronger to fight for a position in a male dominated sport.

  5. David T says:

    Wow another hero for my daughter!

  6. cg29 says:

    The comment about women not being strong enough makes sense in a lot of sports, but obviously this person doesn’t play goal. Strength has very little to do the with position. It has to do with reflexes,hand eye, positioning, technique, anticipation….strength is way down the list.

  7. paul szabo says:

    Hey CG29;
    Here’s some extra proof that what you say is true:
    think back when Patrick Roy won that first cup in 1986. Many pictures were taken of him parading in the back of a limo with his shirt off. He looked almost like a poster child for famine relief he was so skinny. Also, there are a number of NHL goalies who are bean poles. Patrick Lalime (6 foot 3, 189 lbs) and Ryan Miller (6 foot 2, 175 lbs) are examples.

  8. David Lutes says:

    Hello from Japan,

    Just finished watching Shannon win the Gold medal at the Olympics. I was so impressed with her after the 1st, I called back home to Canada to ask who she was.

    I will be 47 this year and am playing goal in the Japanese nationals next week. I only mention this because being called out of a 10-year retirement to play semi-pro would only be possible in goal. Goaltending doesn’t require the same type of strength as your starting power-forward. Without getting too much into the playing of goal, physical strength in nowhere near the top requirements. Remember it is the only position in hockey where the other team is trying NOT to hit you. Where a female may have narrower shoulders, they naturally have better hip rotation and with the gear nowadays, a woman’s physique may have the advantage with the modern butterfly and importance of a quick flare. There is an alarming number of goalies with groin injuries, even in the NHL. (Matter of opinion but I believe it contributed to the demise of Hasek) Though Shannon is only 5’8″, there have been shorter NHL goalie greats, Roger Crozier and Rogie Vachon to name a couple(both 5’6″, yes, i know, different game then). It is mental strength that makes the difference, not gender, and without a doubt, Shannon has it.

    To date, she has excelled at every level she has played. Were she to get a shot at the pros, the only question will be if she can adjust to the speed – lateral transitions, shot speed and shot releases. But this is true for any goalie trying to make the pros.

    Going way back, but when i faced Gaston Gingras (stint with the Habs) the adjustment I had to make was never blink when he crossed center ice.

    I truly wish Shannon the best.

  9. Paul Szabo says:

    Hi David;
    Thanks for your comments! Your observations about strength vs. other
    attributes like flexibility are very accurate. In another article I wrote for Ingoalmag I noted how hopelessly skinny Patrick Roy looked in the parade on St. Catherine St. after that first cup- pretty much all reflexes and no muscles!

    I teach for a goalie school here in Quebec City and sure enough, the kids with the best butterfly are the girls. They laugh at me because I basically have no flare whatsoever, and am not likely to get one anytime soon at age 45.

    As far as Shanon Szabados is concerned, she seems not only an outstanding goalie but also a gracious person; very generous in her giving me interviews and autographed photos for my son’s bedroom wall. A lot has been written about her this week; some of it recounting how much crap she had to go through to have her chance to play in a men’s league. I think there will be women playing pro hockey in goal before any other position. Maybe she will be the first (Hayley Wickenheier’s stint in Europe notwithstanding).

    Greetings to your family and your mom Terri in particular. Philippino goalies need to stick together. It would be nice to know what hockey is like in Japan. If you haven’t read his book, Dave Bidini wrote a real gem called Tropic of Hockey; all about playing in tournaments in weird places like Saudi Arabia, China and Transylvania among other places…

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