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?
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