Shannon Szabados is having a rather memorable 2014. First she backstopped Canada to their fourth straight gold medal at the Winter Olympics, making 27 saves in the gold-medal game against the United States. Later in the season, Szabados signed a professional contract with the Columbus Cottonmouths in the Southern Professional Hockey League to test her mettle against men in the minors.
After making two appearances with the team last year as the first woman ever to play in the SPHL, Szabados has earned a new contract with the Cottonmouths, the club announced Wednesday.
In her two appearances with Columbus last year, she allowed seven total goals in a pair of losses, posting a 3.55 goals-against average and .894 save percentage. Maybe not the most sparkling numbers, but it would be unfair to call her a bust in that small sample.
It is believed that that record for games played in a single season by a female goaltender in North American professional hockey is the 11 games Manon Rehaume played in the now-defunct WCHL in 1996-97 for the Reno Renegades so that gives Szabados and the Cottonmouths.
Rheaume, the first woman to ever play in an NHL preseason game – which she accomplished with the Tampa Bay Lightning – appeared in 25 total men's professional games according to hockeydb.com. She played four total regular-season games in the International Hockey League, which at the time was the second highest professional league in North America.
Another female goaltender who played in North American professional hockey was American goaltender Erin Whitten. She appeared in 13 professional games in various leagues including four in the ECHL with the Toledo Storm.
If Szabados can stick with the Cottonmouths and do well enough, it would be a big victory for women's hockey. The talented 28-year-old netminder may be viewed as a minor-league sideshow, but she definitely has some serious goaltending chops and a long history of playing against men.
Szabados actually came up through the ranks primarily against boys. She appeared in one minute of one game with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League, but became her team's primary goaltender in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Szabados was actually named the AJHL's best goaltender in 2006-07 after posting a .920 save percentage in 43 appearances with the Fort Saskatchewan Traders.
She also played men's hockey in college, closing out her career with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, where she excelled. Szabados helped her team to the ACAC title with a perfect 6-0-0 record in the postseason in 2012-13 and put up a .930 save percentage. There are plenty of male goaltenders out there with a worse record that have been given their shot in the minors over time.
Szabados' presence will definitely bring some attention to the SPHL and particularly the Cottonmouths, but if she puts up solid numbers, she'll help tread some new ground for women's hockey which has grown immensely in the last 20 years.