When it comes to hockey, you aren’t likely to see a female skating around with the boys. That’s because most professional leagues are men leagues. But the Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League, didn’t have any issue signing two time Olympic gold medalist goalie, Shannon Szabados.
In light of her returning from the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi Russia, Shannon achieved a goal she had set for herself.
In an interview Shannon did with CBC Canada in April of 2013, Shannon says that one of her goals is “To play professional men’s hockey following the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. “Being a girl, I don’t think anyone is going to just offer up an opportunity, I’ll probably have to do some digging and get in some where. I think it’s something I would regret if I didn’t at least try.” Well, less than a year later and within a month of returning from Sochi, Shannon did just that.
Szabados is the first female to play in the SPHL. A league that’s only been around for ten seasons.
Three of Cottonmouths players played college hockey with Shannon at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. Andy Willigar, Jordan Draper, and Kyle Johnson put a bug in head coach, Jerome Bechard’s ear about Shannon joining the team. Coach Bechard has been with the Cottonmouths since 1996 when the team was still part of the CHL and Jerome was on the ice during the game, and not coaching from the bench. As head coach, Bechard has lead the team to two President Cup Championships. The first was in the 2004-2005 season, the second was in the 2011-2012 season. Columbus holds the second place spot for most Championships in the league. The Cottonmouths made it to the finals this season. Bechard was also awarded Coach of the year in 2005-2006 season.
I caught up with Shannon after her first game she dressed in and was an official Columbus Cottonmouth. She is such a great person to talk with, extremely down to Earth, and honestly she just wants to play hockey.
1. In an interview you did in April of 2013, you said that your future ambition was to play in a professional men’s league after Sochi. Did you ever think it would happen as quickly as it did? And did you ever think you’d be doing it with another gold medal under your belt?
Since I’m done my College/University eligibility I was hoping to find a Pro team to play on for the 2014-2015 season but I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to join the Columbus Cottonmouths for the remainder of this season! ….and glad it’s with 2 Olympic Gold Medals under my belt!
2. You’re back to playing with three former team mates from college, do you think that’s going to help with the transition into playing in the SPHL? How do you think it would be different if you were joining a team without previous team mates?
Yes it has definitely helped! They are 3 of my best friends so I immediately felt comfortable coming to Columbus. They picked me up from the airport, introduced me to the team, showed me around the arena and town and it’s felt like I’ve been on the team the entire year, that’s how easy the transition has been. Obviously there were some adjustments as far as on the ice went and the speed of things but they’ve helped me with that as well.
3. How would you describe the Olympic experience in Vancouver vs. the experience in Sochi?
Vancouver was my first Olympic Games so I remember being very shy and timid and was kind of in a bubble the whole time. I was a lot more comfortable in Sochi and was able to enjoy things a little more. The biggest difference on the ice had to be the crowds. They were very neutral crowds in Sochi and not nearly as loud as the sea of red and white in Vancouver.
4. Now that you have two gold medals under your belt, and you’ve achieved the goal of signing and playing in a professional men’s league. What’s the next accomplishment you have set for yourself?
My goal is just to continue to play hockey at the highest level possible and if my body holds up I’d love to make a run at one more Olympic Games!
5. You’re the first female to join the SPHL in the ten years that the leagues been around. Do you think that this will encourage other female hockey players to try and make it to professional men’s leagues? What advice would you give other females who are going after their dreams of wanting to play professional hockey?
I hope so! I hope it opens up a few more doors for future generations and makes people realize that there are girls out there good enough to play with the guys at any level. My advice would be to use criticism as motivation and set out to prove people wrong.
6. Why do you think there aren’t professional leagues for women like there are for men? Is it crazy to think that one day we could see females playing on professional teams with men, or is that something that could be done?
I think the game just hasn’t gotten the exposure it deserves. The female game has grown so much in the last few years and in a couple more years I think the level of play will be elevated and make for a fun game to watch which will hopefully lead to more opportunities for females to play.
7. Depending on how the rest of the season goes, would you like to be playing in the league again?
Yes, my goal is to be back playing with the Columbus Cottonmouths next season!
8. Obviously winning a gold medal is an amazing thing. But winning two, must be an extraordinary feeling. Did winning one medal feel better than the other?
Nope, they both felt pretty darn good haha! They were both special in their own ways. Vancouver was amazing because it was in front of our home crowd and that is a feeling I’ll never forget. Sochi was the most exciting game I’ve ever been a part of and the way that game ended will probably never be topped.
I can’t begin to tell you how awesome it was to be able to talk with Shannon. It was just as great being able to see her make history once again by being the first female to ever play in the Southern Professional Hockey League championship finals. I am looking forward to seeing what next season holds for Shannon and the rest of the Columbus Cottonmouths.