Fresh off her gold medal Olympic performance for the Team Canada women’s team, Shannon Szabados recently practiced with the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League. The NHL hockey team was between goalies as the squad had just acquired Viktor Fasth from the Anaheim Ducks after having traded Illya Bryzglov to the Minnesota Wild. Fearing that Fasth would not be available in time for a game, the Edmonton Oilers put Olympic golden girl Shannon Szabados in the crease for practice.
In was actually a social media Twitter campaign that resulted in the invitation to practice, a campaign that urged the Edmonton Oilers to use Szabados as an emergency backup goalie for Ben Scrivens the other night when the Oilers played Ottawa.
While Szabados did practice with the team, the Oilers opted to put Kurtis Mucha as their back goalie for the Ottawa game. Mucha is a goalie with the Alberta Golden Bears.
Craig MacTavish, Oiler general manager, had high praise for Szabados but said having her in the actual game against Ottawa was not something the team would consider at this point in time.
Shannon Szabados, 27, is a very high profile ice hockey player as she is the goaltender for the Canadian National hockey team. She has also played for the men’s MacEwan University hockey team and plays for the NAIR Ooks in Edmonton, Alberta. She has landed several MVP and all-star mentions.
Szabados also won a gold medal as the goalie for Team Canada in 2010. At the memorable Sochi games she backstopped the team for a 3-2 spine-tingling overtime win over the United States. In the 2010 gold medal game she did allow any goals as Team Canada won 2-0.
Many Canadian hockey observers and sportswriters think she is the best goalie in women’s hockey in the world. She has had much experience playing against men, having logged some 300 games with the Alberta Junior Hockey League and the ACAC (Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference).
Currently, Edmonton has one of the dimmest records in the National Hockey League. They are rooted in last place in the Pacific division of the Western Conference with a won loss record of 21-34.
The double gold medal winner is not the first women to suit up and play with male professional hockey players. Manon Rheaume has the distinction of being the first and only woman ever to play in a National Hockey League exhibition game.
Back in 1992, Rheaume, a Canadian ice hockey goaltender who won an Olympic silver medal, played in a preseason exhibition games for the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL. She did not play in a regular season game.
Many observers still think the Rheaume experience was a publicity stunt at the time, while there are still many traditionalists who don’t think women can compete on men’s professional sports teams. Professional hockey, in particular, like football, is a brutal sport where physical strength, height and weight make it tough for women to joust at the same level.
Yet, there are certain male dominated sports where woman do seem capable of competing and do compete. If there was ever going to be a female hockey goalie in a regular NHL game, chances are Szabados is a front-runner.
Some people also think that present WNBA star Candace Parker could hold her own in the NBA. Ditto with former WNBA star Nancy Lieberman. Tennis legend Billie Jean King upended Bobby Riggs in their ‘battle of the sexes’ match in 1973. Danica Patrick has become a major name in IndyCar racing. And Katie Hnida was a placekicker for the University of New Mexico men’s football team and became the first woman to score in an NCAA Division 1-A game.
For now the debate as to whether a woman can compete on the same level as men in the NHL is confined to a practice session, where the Edmonton Oilers put golden girl Shannon Szabados in as goalie.
By Jim McCullaugh