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Bring it on: Canadian Women’s Team Goalies ready for Olympic action

Shannon Szabados and Kim St. Pierre will be standing on guard for thee in Vancouver. Photo thanks to Tyler Ingram, all rights reserved. was fortunate to be able to talk with Kim St. Pierre and Shannon Szabados, two-thirds of Team Canada’s trio of netminders that will take to the ice in Vancouver in only four days.  While the men’s goalies certainly attract their share of attention, the women backstoppers are standouts in their own right and face a daunting and exciting task ahead.  Also similar to the men, the goalie roster includes two veterans (Kim St. Pierre and Charline Labonté) and one newcomer (Shannon Szabados).  Who will get the net on opening day versus Slovakia?  It’s anybody’s guess, but see the editor’s note at the bottom of the interview for our “expert” opinion…

Q: (to Kim)
You are the most senior member of the goaltending trio.  Has your status been defined or will you operate as in past tournaments i.e. any of the three may play and without any real designated hierarchy?  Have you changed things about your diet, training or way of practicing now that you’ve hit 30?
KSP: As usual, our status is not defined.  We will have to wait until we get to Vancouver and mostly the night before each game!  It isn’t anything new for me.  I have been in the program for 10 years and it has been the same process every season!  I focus on what I can control and play well when I am being asked to!  I haven’t really changed anything about my diet.  I like to eat well and good food helps me perform at my best.  I like to read a lot on nutrition and make sure ask our nutritionist questions if I need to.  As for the way I practice or play, I would say that I put in the same effort as usual.  I really believe in working hard every day to improve.  I think the biggest difference would be in recovery after games and practices.  I spend more time cooling down and stretching.  I feel great 🙂

Q: (to Shannon)
You are the most junior member of the goaltending trio. Has your status been defined or will you operate as in past tournaments i.e. any of the three may play and without any real designated hierarchy?
SS: All 3 goalies are eligible to play but in such an important tournament with only 5 games, I’m guessing all the teams will play their top 2 goalies. It’s important to get goalies in a rhythm and let them feel lots of pucks. But if a team has 3 goalies they think are equally good, they might all get a chance to play.

Q: (to Kim)
In October of 2008 you were invited to practice with the Montreal Canadiens.  Was it tough to adjust to the speed and power of their shots?  Why do you think they asked you?  Was this out of true interest or more for the publicity?
KSP: They needed a goalie for their practice.  It was a last minute decision.  Scott Livingston, the Montreal Canadiens’ trainer, was also my off-ice trainer.  He thought about me to replace Carey Price for the practice.   I get asked sometimes to go practice with the injured guys so they knew about me!  It was very different than what I am used to.  I loved it.  It was amazing to be on the ice with the Habs and to try to stop a few pucks.  I practiced for 90 minutes and it went by so fast.  It was not for any publicity… it was just a practice!!

Q:  (to Shannon)
Since you have been playing with men’s team at your college, what adjustments, if any, are you having to make to your technique for this women’s tournament?
SS: The biggest difference I find is that most of the women’s goals are scored from right outside the crease on either a tip or a rebound. The guys are so strong that they can shoot the puck from anywhere and score, but the Women have to be a little smarter with their shots. As a goaltender you have to really focus on controlling your rebounds and be in perfect position if one is created. Patience and posture are key.

Q: (to Kim and Shannon)
Who are the countries and goalies that you think may be or become a force in Olympic women’s hockey (besides the US)?  For example, in pro hockey the Finns have more or less invaded the NHL with guys like Kiprusoff, Lehtonen, Rinne, Toskala, Nittymaki, Rask, Backstrom etc. (which I think is a result of their excellent skills development for goalies).  Is there any equivalent to this in women’s hockey?  Is the Olympic tournament becoming more of a shared competition and not just a Canada -US showdown?
KSP:  Finland and Sweden have great goalies.  I heard recently that Russia might have found a great goalie as well. I think the other countries will also follow at some point.
I think the tournament should be more of a shared competition this year.  In Torino, Sweden beat the USA… and we also lost one game to Sweden last season.  Finland also has a great team and they can play really well.  We will see what happens in a few weeks but I am sure it will be exciting.
SS: I hope this doesn’t sound cocky because I am more referring to the goaltenders around me when I say Canada is the biggest force in producing goaltenders. We are the only team that would be able to play any of our team’s 3 goaltenders against any team, at any given time and have full confidence in them. And there is no shortage of up and coming goaltenders either, we have 4 or 5 goalies that could be on this team.

Q:  (to Kim and Shannon)
The men’s game, esp. the NHL game, has seen a number of injuries and incidents with players driving the net and crashing into the goalie as part of the process.  Is this as much a factor in the women’s game, particularly since your defenders cannot body check attacking forwards in front of the goal?
KSP: We don’t see as many injuries in women’s hockey.  The game is faster and more physical but without the body checking, I think it helps us to not get injured as much.
SS: No I don’t believe this is as big of a factor in the Women’s game. Although the games get really physical and intense with players driving the net, there is definitely a respect within the crease when it comes to crashing the net.

Q:  (to Kim and Shannon)
Will you be crossing paths much with the men’s team, either on the ice or off?  What is your impression and contact with them like?
KSP: We usually see them in the Olympic Village.  We have a very busy schedule and same for them. We also have access to all the men’s games.  Nothing on ice.  It is great to meet them and chat with them.  We share the same passion and we are there to represent our country.  I think it would be great to chat with Brodeur, Luongo and Fleury 🙂  They are usually really nice and available.
SS: This is my first Olympics so I’m not too sure what the protocol will be like and what each team’s schedule will look like but we’ve spent time with both the men’s Olympic and men’s Sledge Hockey teams this year. We were fortunate enough to get to watch the men’s training camp and intersquad game. Afterwards Hockey Canada put on a dinner to give the players a chance to interact. I sat with Chris Pronger, he was hilarious!!

Q:  (to Kim and Shannon)
There is quite a legitimate argument to be made that in the men’s game there is regular use of illegal products for increasing performance, whether it be high tech drugs or over the counter stuff like sudofed.  Is there pressure on the women in this regard as they push to become bigger and stronger athletes?
KSP: Not at all.  We are well informed on which product we are allowed to take and which one we can’t touch.  We have some testing done regularly and the girls make sure they don’t use illegal products.
To get better and stronger, we train 🙂
SS: Definitely not at this level. That’s what we train 6-7 days a week for!! Besides, we have random urine tests by the CCES (Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport) haha, so we would never get away with it; no one would even think about it. The CCES has literally shown up at my house at 7am in the morning to do an unannounced drug test. There’s no room for it in the Women’s game.

Q:  (to Kim)
If you win anything less than a gold medal, how will you feel and in particular, what would your message to Canadians be?  Are our expectations fair ones?
We want to win the gold medal and that is the only thing we are thinking about.  We have to be positive and confident in ourselves but also in each other.  We are training really hard every day and we want to be ready for the games.  We know we have high expectations for our team but we will feed off that pressure 🙂  We want to do well and we can’t wait to hear Canadians cheering for us!

Editor’s note: While the team hasn’t nominated any of its three netminders as the no. 1 or even as the opening game starter, here’s our take on who is likely to get the call.  Going strictly on the stats from games played this season, new arrival Shannon Szabados would seem to be the favourite.  Charline Labonté and especially Kim St. Pierre certainly have experience on their side, but Szabados has a record that most of us could only dream about.  Here’s the tale of the tape; you make your own predictions…

Szabados: in 15 games: 14-1 record, 1.64 GAA, 0.936 SP%
St.Pierre: in 17 games: 13-4 record,  2.31 GAA, 0.913 SP%
Labonté: in 9 games:  4-3 record, 3.22 GAA, 0.890 SP%
There’s more in the Toronto Star on the same story – see what columnist Rosie DiManno has to say.

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