The Edmonton Oilers have a team slogan: Once an Oiler, Always an Oiler.
Alumni live that slogan, often going back to Edmonton to give back to the
community that has supported them over the years.
Shannon Szabados feels it, too. Although she’s never been an official
member of the Oilers, she has a unique tie to the organization. She grew up
watching her hometown Oilers, attended Bill Ranford’s goalie schools over
several years, has practiced with the team and, in recent years, has been
honoured by the club for her gold medals with Canada’s National Women’s
Team goaltender at the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
So you can understand how much pride Szabados will have on Sunday night
when she steps on the ice at Rogers Place with her Canadian teammates to
face off against the Americans in the finale of the six-game pre-Olympic
“It’s exciting for me,” says Szabados, who has played one game thus far in
the series, making 27 saves in a 2-1 overtime win on Dec. 3 in St. Paul,
Minn. “I’m born and raised in Edmonton my entire life and lately with
everything that has been going on there – the new arena, having McDavid
there, just the excitement in the city – Edmonton is a huge hockey city as
it is but that has ramped up even more in the last year or two.”
Szabados hasn’t played a game at Rogers Place (she has attended several
events there) and you can bet the Edmonton crowd will give her a warm
welcome in her debut in the new rink.
The puck-stopper is as loyal of an Edmontonian as you will find. Although
hockey has taken her to different parts of the world, she has always come
home to the Alberta capital.
Szabados spends countless hours in the community giving back, whether it’s
hosting hockey schools for the next generation of goaltenders, speaking
about her experiences at local schools or helping fundraise for local
charities, including the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation.
The willingness to give back, she says, is due to how much the city and its
people mean to her and how much support she’s been given over the years.
“I always get asked about how I got into hockey,” she says. “Edmonton is
such a great hockey city so, for me, it was growing up watching the Oilers
when I was 2-3 years old, getting to watch them on TV, having that
accessibility, going to the games. As far as the city, there’s so much
opportunity. Some of my fondest memories are skating around on the outdoor
rinks. There are dozens of rinks in the winter that kids can go skate on.
Things like that really shaped me into the hockey player and person I am
“One of my big mentors growing up was Bill Ranford and I was fortunate
enough to go to his goalie schools just outside the city for years and
years and kind of learn from him. I still have a picture of him holding the
Conn Smythe Trophy in my room.”
Playing in front of her hometown fans will be a thrill, says Szabados, but
once the puck drops it will be all business. Canada and the U.S. will meet
Feb. 14 in the preliminary round at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in
PyeongChang, South Korea and Szabados and her teammates know how important
the six-game series against the Americans is in terms of the process.
“They’re huge for us,” she says. “Not only does it test us individually but
as a team, too. We love playing them because they’re a great team, but we
also love playing them because they can show us what we need to work on.
You need to play a strong team to see your weaknesses.”
Szabados is one of three goaltenders vying to be the No. 1 for Team Canada
in PyeongChang. She entered the 2017-18 centralization season as the leader
for that job given her past success in helping lead Canada to gold medals
in Vancouver and Sochi.
But the 31-year-old knows that predictions or hype from the outside – be it
from fans or media – don’t mean much. She went into the 2009-10
centralization season as the third goaltemder behind veterans Kim St-Pierre
and Charline Labonté and ended up winning the job to play the gold medal
This year, Szabados is joined by Ann-Renée Desbiens and Geneviève Lacasse
on the Canadian roster.
“I won’t take anything for granted, that’s for sure,” she says. “I was in
that role where I was the youngest and was tagged as the third-string and I
battled my way to be number one. Not only is it my job to work hard and
earn that job, but it’s also my job to make sure that, if I’m not the
number one goalie come February, whoever it is, is ready. Being the older
goalie, that’s my job this year. I would feel comfortable with either one
of them in the gold medal game.”