Photo by JOSH ALDRICH/Advocate staff -- photo for Josh's story -- Two-time Olympic gold medalist goaltender Shannon Szabados was the keynote speaker Tuesday morning at the Special Olympics Red Deer Celebrity Breakfast at the Harvest Centre.

Photo by JOSH ALDRICH/Advocate staff -- photo for Josh's story -- Two-time Olympic gold medalist goaltender Shannon Szabados was the keynote speaker Tuesday morning at the Special Olympics Red Deer Celebrity Breakfast at the Harvest Centre.

Szabados stronger through adversity

Shannon Szabados is no stranger to adversity. She has battled it as the girl goalie on boys hockey teams going back to her minor hockey days, but what she and the rest of her Canadian Olympic teammates went through in the past year en rout to gold was unlike anything she had experienced before.

Shannon Szabados is no stranger to adversity.

She has battled it as the girl goalie on boys hockey teams going back to her minor hockey days, but what she and the rest of her Canadian Olympic teammates went through in the past year en rout to gold was unlike anything she had experienced before.

On Tuesday morning, she spoke in front of a sold out Harvest Centre for the annual Red Deer Special Olympics Celebrity Breakfast, with a message of being formed through adversity.

“Adversity makes better teammates and players, but it also makes better people as well,” she said.

The Edmonton product grew up watching Bill Ranford and her beloved Oilers at the end of their dynasty, it was her dream to follow in their footsteps in some capacity.

Szabados, 27, started playing the game when she was five years old, at a time when girls hockey was not an option.

Gender, however, did not become an issue until she earned a spot on a bantam AAA team. The league came to her with two demands, to cut her long hair — because it was distracting — and to sign a contract agreeing to use a separate change room. She refused both.

When she entered the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Sherwood Park Crusaders in 2002, the league had to vote on whether they would allow a girl to play or not. Even a team website had a poll question to the same effect, and 51 per cent of respondents said “no.”

She was viewed as a side show.

But she more than earned her place. She made three all-star teams, twice was named her team’s MVP and in her final season was named the league’s top goaltender.

Playing for the women’s Olympic team her gender wasn’t the issue, instead it was the two long time stalwarts in net ahead of her. She went a full year without even dressing for a game for the national team.

In 2009, prior to the Vancouver Olympics, she started the season as the No. 3 goalie on the roster, but by the time the gold medal game rolled around, she was starting.

Not only did she start, but she stopped all 28 shots she faced in a 2-0 shutout of the hated Americans.

She should have been a cinch to be the starter for the Sochi Olympics this winter, but the team suffered through their worst year in more than a decade. They were dead last in the Alberta Major Midget Hockey League, which they played in as a warm up, and they were routinely getting beat by the U.S. Moreover, their coach Dan Church quit five games before the Olympics, and they lost four of five games heading into the tournament.

Szabados had been battling injuries in the run up to the games and lost her hold on the starting gig to Charlene Labonté.

But she took it as a challenge and once again wrested the crease away from her teammate in time for the gold medal game.

The Canadians appeared to be on the brink of losing the gold until a late flurry with two goals in the final 3:26 squared the affair. They had been outplayed, but they went into the intermission confident.

Marie-Philip Poulin then scored the winner for Canada 8:10 into the extra frame.

“It was a long year for us, it was by far the toughest year we’d ever been through,” said Szabados. “Those challenges and those adversities that we went through as a team is where it ultimately lead to us winning that gold medal game.”

Her performance earned her a call by her hometown NHL team to fill in at a practice in an emergency situation and then a shot with the Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

This time, however, there was no need for a league meeting to allow her to play. Once again she proved herself and back stopped the Cottonmouths to the league final.

“The response was overwhelming, especially from the league and the fans of the league and the guys on the other teams,” said Szabados. “I knew it wouldn’t be an issue on my team, I had played with a few of the guys and they accepted me right away. But it was cool to play another team and for them to come up and congratulate me and welcome me to the league.”

There is one more major hurdle for Szabados, and women’s hockey players, to climb over: to prove they can play with the best men in the world and get a legitimate shot to make an NHL team.

“It might be a few years away, but I think women are slowly closing that gap between men’s and women’s hockey, and I think no position better than a goalie — the strength and the size isn’t that much of a difference,” she said.

Getting Szabados to speak at the breakfast was a major coup for Red Deer Special Olympics chairman Jerry Tennant.

“Every year it gets more and more difficult to find someone, but this year to have Shannon, in particular an Olympic year and the story of the Canadians hockey team that was so amazing at Sochi, … it was terrific to have someone of that calibre be part of the breakfast,” he said.

They hope to raise between $12,000 and $15,000 to help fund the organization for the year. The breakfast generally accounts for about a 20 per cent of their funding, and this was the first year they had sold out.

There are more than 250 local athletes participating with the Red Deer Special Olympics in 11 different sports.

Just Posted

The Sylvan Lake Gulls celebrate a sixth inning home run from Nolan Weger on Sunday during a game against the Edmonton Prospects. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Historic opening weekend for Sylvan Lake Gulls

It wasn’t perfect, but perhaps that was the beauty of it. Fans… Continue reading

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

Three Hills RCMP recovered stolen copper wire during recent investigation near Kneehill. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Fatal ATV rollover near Innisfail Saturday

A 77-year-old man from Red Deer County died Saturday after an ATV… Continue reading

Firefighters and emergency services workers helped celebrate Barry Young’s 85th birthday at Timberstone Mews on May 29. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Firefighters in central Alberta make birthdays special

A fire truck arriving outside your house is not normally good news.… Continue reading

A view of Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park is shown in this undated handout photo. More Canadians are expected to leave their passports at home this summer and hit the road in Canada as the weak loonie and low gas prices prompt a deeper exploration of their own country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Travel Alberta *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Report: Alberta losing residents to other parts of Canada

As the COVID-19 pandemic slowly winds down in Alberta, residents are continuing… Continue reading

A large number of supporters were out Saturday at a rally intended to bring awareness about including Hinduism in the grade 2 portion of the K-6 draft curriculum. As it stands now, Hinduism won’t be taught until grade 6 in the proposed draft curriculum. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Video: Rally to support adding Hinduism to draft curriculum draws crowd in Red Deer

The Hindu community in Red Deer came out in droves on Saturday… Continue reading

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Germany's Robin Gosens, left, celebrates Germany's Mats Hummels after scoring his side's fourth goal during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group F match between Portugal and Germany at the football arena stadium in Munich, Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Matthias Hangst/Pool Photo via AP)
Germany clicks at Euro 2020 with 4-2 win over Portugal

MUNICH (AP) — Germany finally clicked into gear at the European Championship,… Continue reading

Fans cheer on their team during the pre-game warmup of Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup semifinal with the Montreal Canadiens facing the Vegas Golden Knights, in Montreal, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
COVID-19 concerns give way to Habs Fever in Quebec as Montreal continues playoff run

MONTREAL — The sun hadn’t yet risen in Montreal on Friday morning… Continue reading

Coronavirus cases are on the rise from India to South Africa and Mexico, in a May 19, 2020 story. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
As Brazil tops 500,000 deaths, protests against president

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Anti-government protesters took to the streets in… Continue reading

A black bear cub forages for food along a salmon stream below a bear viewing spot for tourists in the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area in Juneau, Alaska.  (File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Bandit responsible for vehicle break-ins is a black bear

THORNTON, N.H. (AP) — Surveillance video helped police get to the bottom… Continue reading

FILE - In this April 25, 2019 file photo, Editor Rick Hutzell, center, gives a speech to his staff including Chase Cook, Nicki Catterlin, Rachael Pacella, Selene San Felice and Danielle Ohl at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. The editor of the Capital Gazette, which won a special Pulitzer Prize citation for its coverage and courage in the face of a massacre in its newsroom, is leaving the Maryland newspaper. Hutzell, who worked at the Annapolis paper for more than three decades, authored a farewell column that was published on the paper's website Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Ulysses Muoz/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Editor of paper that endured newsroom shooting says goodbye

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The editor of the Capital Gazette, which won… Continue reading

Most Read