NHL

Shannon Szabados 'a leader,' not dressing room cancer: ex-teammate

Storm Phaneuf describes former goaltending partner Shannon Szabados as a model teammate and leader, refuting Peoria Rivermen head coach Jean-Guy Trudel’s claim that the Canadian Olympian was "cancerous" within the team’s dressing room.

Former Peoria Rivermen goalie Storm Phaneuf praises Canadian Olympian

Storm Phaneuf came to the defence of ex-teammate and former goaltending partner Shannon Szabados on Friday, saying the Canadian Olympian was a "leader and friendly to everyone" in the Peoria Rivermen dressing room. Szabados and Phaneuf were released by the Southern Professional Hockey League team on Monday after two games. (Courtesy Bob Hunt/Peoria Rivermen)

Storm Phaneuf describes a model teammate in former goaltending partner Shannon Szabados after they were released on the same day, two games into a 56-game schedule by the Peoria Rivermen of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

Rivermen head coach Jean-Guy Trudel told CBC Sports on Wednesday that he only signed the 30-year-old Szabados, as a "package deal" in order to get defenceman Carl Nielsen, a friend of the Canadian goalie, and that their relationship was "cancerous" within the dressing room.

But Phaneuf painted a very different picture of Szabados' interaction with the team.

"Shannon is very nice. She talks to everybody and is friendly to everyone," Phaneuf, 20, told CBC Sports on Friday, four days after Trudel released the goalies following a pair of weekend losses to open the season, and placed the 28-year-old Nielsen on indefinite suspension to retain his SPHL rights.

"Shannon is not the kind of girl who would make a situation awkward. In the [dressing] room she was a leader, talking loud and giving tips to the other guys."

Trudel, however, said he noticed a drastic change in team morale shortly after Szabados and Nielsen joined the team in September, noting cliques began to form that turned a close-knit group from last season that had fun and won games into one that had become quiet and unproductive on the ice.

Phaneuf, who missed some of the Rivermen's 10-day training camp while battling the flu and travelling to the border in Detroit to pick up his U.S. work visa, said he never saw any cliques during his time with the team.

It's not like they were holding hands or kissing each other. They seemed like good buddies.- Former Peoria goalie Storm Phaneuf on ex-teammates Shannon Szabados and Carl Nielsen

"They were always together and it became kind of weird," Trudel, in his third season behind the team's bench, said of Szabados and Nielsen, a former captain with Orlando of the ECHL. But to get the native of Lorain, Ohio, the coach had to take Szabados, whom he said "was fourth on the depth chart after camp."

Phaneuf, a former Quebec Major Junior Hockey League goalie from Gatineau, said he never felt uncomfortable in the dressing room with Szabados and Nielsen, who have been inseparable since meeting at a hockey camp this past off-season in Denver.

"It's not like they were holding hands or kissing each other, not at all," said Phaneuf. "They seemed like good buddies. Cancerous is a very big word. I've seen way more cancerous situations [elsewhere in hockey].

"She was a good goalie partner, giving me tips on the ice. She's 10 years older and has more experience [in the game] than me. She was [encouraging and cheering] everyone."

Phaneuf, like Szabados, has yet to latch on with another club but is confident he could remain in the SPHL.

The six-foot-two, 210-pound netminder played four seasons in the Quebec league with Blainville-Boisbriand, Shawinigan and Chicoutimi before posting a 3.12 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in a 41-game stint last year with the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the British Columbia Hockey League.

"My career is not done because somebody cut me after one [start]," he said.

Phaneuf made his professional debut in Peoria's Oct. 21 season opener against visiting Huntsville (Alabama) but was pulled at the 35:05 mark when the Havoc scored three times in the second period to snap a 1-1 tie en route to a 6-1 win.


The next night, Phaneuf stopped 11 of 13 shots in 35:45 of relief of Szabados, an Edmonton native, as Huntsville completed the sweep with a 5-1 victory.

"After our first two games, I thought our goaltending wasn't good enough to compete, and changes had to be made," said Trudel in a statement upon Monday's release of Phaneuf and Szabados, who won Olympic gold with the Canadian women's team in 2010 and 2014.

In two games, she posted a 6.10 goals-against average and .792 save percentage, compared to Phaneuf's 5.08, .786 totals.

Phaneuf said he had "maybe a two-minute meeting" with Trudel on Monday during which he was notified about his release and was told "he looked stressed in the net" in the opening game, but Phaneuf disagreed and said he felt good and calm.

'I liked the guys a lot'

"[Huntsville scored some] nice goals and we made some mistakes defensively," said Phaneuf, who remains in Illinois skating with the Danville Dashers of the Federal Hockey League while his agent, Christian Daigle, attempts to find him a team. "It's a team sport so, yeah, I was pretty shocked to be released after [starting] one game.

"I'm sure even [Montreal Canadiens goalie] Carey Price and [Hall of Famer] Patrick Roy had bad games in their life. … It's a very weird situation [in Peoria] but I made some good friends there and I liked the guys a lot."

Current Rivermen defenceman Mark Corbett of Burlington, Ont., declined an interview with CBC Sports, saying through a text message that the team had moved past the events of this week and preferred not to comment further.

"We have a game tonight and [Saturday] and my mindset is on that," wrote the 26-year-old, a third-year pro who played 49 games for Peoria last season after the team waived him after one contest, only to re-sign him last Nov. 21.

"As a leader here," Corbett added, "I am focused on getting our team back in the win column."

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