After dominating female competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados got a chance to mix it up with the boys as she practiced with the Edmonton Oilers Wednesday.
Szabados' participation was necessitated by a goalie carousel in Edmonton that saw the Oilers trade Ilya Bryzgalov to the Minnesota Wild Tuesday before acquiring Viktor Fasth from the Anaheim Ducks that same day.
With Fasth still in transit to Edmonton Wednesday, the Oilers invited Szabados to practice as their second goalie along with Ben Scrivens, according to the Oilers' official Twitter account:
As seen in this photo courtesy of TSN's Ryan Rishaug, Szabados took the ice in full Oilers garb:
Szabados and Scrivens taking the ice. pic.twitter.com/eODTerByqJ— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) March 5, 2014
Naturally, Szabados stood out from the crowd, and while she acknowledged that following the practice, she felt like she belonged:
Szabados says she was "just another player on the ice with a little longer hair than the rest of them" adding she's "on cloud nine".— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) March 5, 2014
There is always some concern regarding how a woman will be received by male athletes, but every indication is that the Oilers welcomed her with open arms.
Forward Taylor Hall didn't believe she was out of place whatsoever.
Hall says Szabados "easily held her own" during #Oilers practice.— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) March 5, 2014
According to The Associated Press, Oilers forward Jordan Eberle said it didn't take long before the team treated her just like any other netminder.
Will Shannon Szabados ever suit up for an NHL game?
"She's pretty good," Eberle said. "Once you figure that out, you try and score and put in as many as you can. It's great that she could step in and help us out."
Szabados was a key figure in Canada's gold-medal triumph in Sochi. She allowed under one goal per game and held firm in the Canadians' overtime victory against Team USA in the gold-medal final.
Due to Szabados' status as a national hero, there was some belief that the Oilers would call on her to serve as the backup to Scrivens when they played against the Ottawa Senators Tuesday. Instead, Edmonton went with University of Alberta Golden Bears netminder Kurtis Mucha, per Chris Wescott of Oilers.com.
When it became clear the Oilers needed an emergency backup, a Twitter campaign began in support of Szabados taking the spot. Ryan Dittrick of Sportsnet was one of many who thought Szabados suiting up would have made for a great story:
Szabados might not be the best goalie available. BUT, does that even matter? #Oilers are 20-34-8. A little positive PR. Fans deserve it.— Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) March 4, 2014
Not everyone was on board with the idea, though. Jason Gregor of TSN 1260 pointed out that the level of competition in the NHL is significantly higher compared to what Szabados is used to:
It might have been great story, but Szabados was not best option. CDN women went 3-11-4 vs. Midget AAA boys this year. Big jump to NHL.— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) March 4, 2014
While dressing for a game didn't come to fruition, Szabados seemed perfectly content with her role at Oilers practice Wednesday. According to the AP, she enjoyed the experience.
"As a hockey player, you just want to play the highest level possible and playing in Sochi, winning a gold medal, was fun," Szabados said. "And taking part in an NHL practice was pretty cool."
Manon Rheaume remains the only woman to play in an NHL game, as she patrolled the crease for the Tampa Bay Lightning in an exhibition game in both 1992 and 1993. However, based on comments that Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish made, via Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal, that could change in the future.
I've spoken with (Szabados) a few times over the years. I saw her play against my son at the midget level a couple of years ago—she shut him down a couple of times on a couple of glorious chances—so I have a good appreciation of her level as a goaltender. She's very capable. To have her name enter the discussion when we're talking about that is a real accomplishment to her and her level of play.
Yeah it (playing her in a game) would be something that we'd consider but not at this point in time.
Although the stars didn't align for Szabados, simply practicing with an NHL team is still quite an achievement. Further, MacTavish left the door open for her moving forward.
Using Szabados in an exhibition game down the line could be a great public relations move for the franchise, and it is something that Szabados has earned.
Now that she has a taste of competing with NHL players, there is little doubt that she'll work feverishly to get another opportunity down the line.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter