After parts of three seasons with the SPHL’s Columbus Cottonmouths, Shannon Szabados could have almost certainly picked any top women’s club to sign with for the upcoming campaign and made an immediate impact. However, instead of heading back to the women’s game, Szabados is set to try and earn herself another SPHL gig this coming campaign.
The SPHL’s Peoria Rivermen, an affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, announced Tuesday that Szabados will be joining the club in training camp ahead of the 2016-17 campaign, and while there’s no guarantees about her spot on the team or how much playing time she could get, she looks to be the backup netminder for the club this coming season.
"We want her here and it's exciting to get her,” Rivermen coach Jean-Guy Trudel told the Peoria Journal Star’s Dave Eminian. “The way we play defense in Peoria, and the types of players we have, I think she's going to look a lot better with our team in front of her. I'm anxious to get her into camp and see how it goes.”
This past season in Columbus, Szabados posted a 5-11-5 record, 3.63 goals-against average and .910 save percentage, but she did so while playing behind the league’s last-place team. Trudel sees promise in Szabados’ game, even if her numbers weren’t sparkling in 2015-16.
"I went back and looked at the tapes of our games, and she made some tremendous saves in those games,” Trudel told Eminian. “We hit her with 45, 50 shots every night. So she competes, she sticks her nose in there, and she posted a (save percentage) over .900 for a team that had the worst defense in the league.”
According to Eminian, the Rivermen weren’t the only team interested in bringing Szabados aboard. There were a number of clubs that took a look at the netminder this summer after she was let go by the Cottonmouths, and among those was the Canadian women’s national team.
Szabados, 30, hasn’t played for the Canadian club since winning a gold medal at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, but she could be making her return at some point this season. There are yearly tournaments — the Four Nations Cup and World Championship among them — that Szabados could surely contribute to the Canadian side in, and the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics are less than a year and a half away. Eminian reported that the Rivermen would be willing to try to accommodate Szabados if she decided to leave on international duty.
"I have to sit down with Hockey Canada and see what can be worked out,” Szabados told Eminian. “I went to camp with them this month just to keep that door open. But I'm ready to get to Peoria and continue focusing on my pro career.”
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