The 28-year-old goalie from Edmonton will open her first training camp with the Columbus Cottonmouths on Wednesday after getting a taste of the minor pro league late last season.
There’s talk that Cottonmouths general manager and coach Jerome Bechard could give Szabados the nod over Winnipeg’s Andrew Loewen in the Oct. 25 season opener against the hometown Huntsville (Ala.) Havoc.
“I want to get that first win for her really bad,” said Bechard of Szabados in an interview with The Canadian Press. “We play 56 games. In my mind, right off the bat, the plan is for her to get 20 games, if not more.”
Bechard invited Szabados to join the Cottonmouths last March after she led the Canadian women’s Olympic team to a gold medal in Sochi, Russia, and filled in at an Edmonton Oilers practice when the NHL club was temporarily short a goalie.
After two practices, Szabados was thrown in the Columbus net for its final home game, a 4-3 loss to Knoxville during which the five-foot-eight, 148-pound Canadian netminder turned aside 27 shots.
Szabados also played the final 23 minutes of the SPHL championship opener against Pensacola in relief of Loewen, allowing three goals in a 9-1 defeat.
Despite the tough night, Bechard was eyeing both goalies to start the 2014-15 campaign with the Cottonmouths, so he re-signed Szabados in July.
“I wouldn’t bring her in if she wasn’t legit and didn’t give us an opportunity to win,” Bechard said. “She is probably one of the most technical goalies I’ve seen.
“She’s pretty acrobatic and goes side to side with the best of them.”
While Szabados could be playing north of the border and helping promote the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, she hasn’t received any grief from female players.
“On the players’ side of it, they understand,” she said. “As a goalie, it’s easier to play against guys twice your size.”
But Szabados isn’t the first women to play in a men’s pro league.
Here’s a timeline of those who have previously made the jump.- 2008-09 season: German goalie Viona Harrer played for TSV Erding Gladiators in Bavaria with her brother Daniel. In the previous season, she appeared in four games with EC Bad Tolz in the country’s Oberliga (semi-pro league).
- 2005-06: In what was considered a publicity stunt, colon cancer survivor Molly McMaster played a game for each of the United Hockey League’s 10 teams. McMaster’s jerseys reportedly were auctioned off, with the proceeds given to breast cancer research.
- 2004-05: American defenceman Angela Ruggiero was the first woman non-goalie to play pro men’s hockey in North America, skating for the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League alongside her brother Bill. They are in the Hockey Hall of Fame as the first brother-sister duo to play pro hockey together.
- 2004: Forward Christine Duchamp was first woman to play in a French first division with Cergy.
- 2002-2004: Canadian forward Hayley Wickenheiser played for Salamat, the third-highest hockey league in Finland. In 2003, she was the first woman to score in a men’s professional league and scored two goals and 12 points in 23 games that season.
- 1993-96: American goalie Erin Whitten debuted in men’s pro hockey in the 1993-94 season with the Dallas Freeze of the Central Hockey League and Toledo Storm of the ECHL. She moved to the Colonial Hockey League the next season with Utica and Muskegon and Flint in 1995-96.
- 1992: Canadian goalie Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play in an NHL pre-season game, dressing for the Tampa Bay Lightning against St. Louis on Sept. 23.