Decision looms for Canadian women's goalie Shannon Szabados
30-year-old has spent last 2 seasons playing in a men's professional league
Shannon Szabados is feeling squeezed between two hockey worlds. The goaltender wants to continue playing men's pro hockey this season, but not lose her status with the Canadian women's team.
Szabados hasn't played for the Canadian women since her 27 saves in the Olympic women's hockey final in 2014, but remained in the national team's pool of players.
The 30-year-old from Edmonton spent the last two seasons in goal for the Columbus Cottonmouths of the South Professional Hockey League.
Her overall record was 20-20-6 and she carried a save percentage over .900 each year.
Szabados intends to return to the SPHL this month, but not to the Cottonmouths, who didn't keep her on their protected list for 2016-17.
Szabados and Hockey Canada female hockey director Melody Davidson agreed Tuesday to let the goalie withdraw from the on-ice portion of this week's 44-player camp in Calgary while she pursues a pro job.
Szabados said Tuesday she was close to an agreement with another team in the SPHL, but wanted her name on the dotted line before going public.
"Being a so-called free agent is scary," Szabados said. "This is kind of the first summer that I never really had a defined plan of what I was going to do and where I was going to go."
Szabados was in Calgary attending team meetings and consulting with medical staff about her left knee. She tore her medial collateral ligament in a Cottonmouths game last season.
Davidson accommodated the two-year absence of Canada's winning goalie in both the 2010 and 2014 Olympic women's finals for a couple of reasons.
Solid training environment
Davidson was able to get young goalies Genevieve Lacasse, Emerance Maschmeyer, Erica Howe and Ann-Renee Desbiens more international starts.
She also knew Szabados was in a solid training environment playing a lot of games in a challenging league that — a rarity for a female hockey player — actually paid her a salary.
But with the 2018 Winter Olympics coming over the horizon, Davidson says there's urgency to get Szabados in the women's lineup if she wants to wear the Maple Leaf again in Pyeongchang, South Korea — which Szabados says she does.
The Canadian women will centralize in Calgary next summer to begin tryouts and preparation for 2018.
"We have coaches who have never coached her," Davidson said. "She needs to be a part of our group. If we're a part of her life, she needs to be a part of our life."
Szabados has spent more of her career in the men's game than the women's. She's proven she can adjust her timing to each.
'We're working through it'
But Canadian teammates — many of whom don't know her — need to start learning how to play in front of her, Davidson pointed out.
Davidson doesn't want to stand in the way of Szabados continuing her pro career, but also wants Szabados available for either the Four Nations Cup in November or a two-game series against the U.S. in December.
"Everybody has the most respect for Szabby and they know what she's done," Davidson said.
"We respect that. We support it. We're being patient. We're working through it. There's going to come a time where Shannon is going to have to make a decision or we as a program have to make a decision."
Szabados doesn't yet know if her potential men's team will free her up to play with the Canadian women this fall.
"Our schedules aren't quite compatible," she said. "Mel's done a great job of working with me and realizing I'm kind of in a unique situation.
"Moving forward, I guess just play it by ear and hopefully make something work."