EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers began practice Wednesday by taking it easy on Shannon Szabados.
You know, because she’s a girl.
Within a few minutes, they were ripping pucks at her like she owed them money.
You know, because she’s a goalie.
The Canadian Olympic hero changed their way of thinking pretty quickly, turning a bunch of players who didn’t want to hurt or embarrass her into a bunch of players doing everything they could to get one past her.
“Maybe (we took it easy) the first couple of shots, then you find out that she’s good enough to handle it,” said Oilers winger Taylor Hall. “She was good. She’s obviously not as big as some of the NHL goalies are now, but she can move around the net really well.
“She surprised me with a few of the saves she made. She easily held her own, it was fun to watch.”
With newly-acquired netminder Viktor Fasth unable to make it to Edmonton in time for practice, head coach Dallas Eakins put in a request Tuesday night.
“He asked me if I had my gear and if I wanted to practise with the guys today,” said Szabados, standing next to her stall, with a nameplate and all, in the Oilers dressing room. “They could have easily thrown their goalie coach in net or whatever. It was nice of them to give me the shot.
“It was awesome. I skate with some NHL guys in the summers, but obviously it’s a little different when it’s a team practice in the middle of the season. It was exciting to be part of.”
The Oilers, who were crowded around the TV in their dressing room watching the women’s gold medal game last week, knew Szabados was good, they just didn’t know how good till they saw her in person.
“I do think we were trying to at least warm her up a little bit, then I realized she was damn good at what she does,” said Luke Gazdic.
“I started firing pucks at her early and she was saving everything I shot, so then I was actually trying to score on her. You could ask Ebbie (Jordan Eberle), too. I don’t think he scored until there were five minutes left in practice.”
Szabados said the Oilers made her feel right at home, on and off the ice.
“They’ve been awesome. I’ve skated with a couple of them before, played against Scrivs (Ben Scrivens) in Junior, so I knew some of them. The rest of them introduced themselves and made me feel welcome.”
Like a player, not a girl.
“As a female hockey player you just want to be seen as a goalie, that’s what I felt like today. The Oilers welcomed me with open arms, as just another player on the ice, just with maybe a little longer hair than the rest of them.”
The video of Szabados hauling her stick, goalie pads and huge equipment bag into Rexall, with empty-handed Justin Schultz and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins not helping with any of it, was perfect.
She’s a goalie, and goalies carry their own stuff.
“Exactly,” she laughed. “As I was walking in, that was going through my mind: This (video) for sure is going to end up somewhere. But I just want to be any other hockey player. If that was Scrivs walking in with his equipment, they wouldn’t help him, either.”