A hockey league of her own

ANGELA MACISAAC -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:14 PM ET

If Shannon Szabados wants to know what people think of her, all she has to do is log on to Internet discussion boards.

There, she will find a wealth of comments about her, both good and bad. And the rough ones can cut to the core.

"They're people who haven't seen me play, people who don't believe women can play in a male-dominated sport," the 18-year-old goaltender said, following a Team Canada women's under-22 practice at Father David Bauer Arena.

"Every girl in hockey faces it."

Don't worry, she's not spending sleepless nights letting the comments eat away at her.

She's continuing to pave her own road, starting three years ago when she became the first female to start a WHL exhibition game. She was released but one month later, on Oct. 2, 2002, she became the first female to start a regular-season AJHL game.

And she's been the No. 1 netminder with the Sherwood Park Crusaders ever since.

"I'm just going to prove it on the ice," said the University of Alberta education student, who posted a 3.45 goals-against average and .910 save percentage last season.

"I'm going to say all my comments on the ice. I don't like getting caught up in all the attention."

She said she tries not to look at the websites and chatrooms but sometimes curiosity gets the best of her.

"It hurts," she said, pounding her chest with a fist.

"But I've got to use it as a motivator. And I'm getting a thicker skin, especially over the last few years."

And now that Team Canada is part of her plans, with an eye on the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, the future is wide open.

She was one of 18 players who made the team out of 40 at an evaluation camp, which was conducted by Team Canada assistant coach Barry Medori last week.

The U22 team gathers again for the European Canada Cup in Germany, Jan. 1-8.

The roster will be completed by four eligible players currently training with the senior women's centralized team: Meghan Agosta, Tessa Bonhomme, Ashley Riggs and Sarah Vaillancourt.

The biggest thing for Szabados to get used to is hanging out with girls.

"It's different but it's fun," she said, a smile creeping across her face. "I'm so used to being around guys all day -- no, all year, I should say.

"But it's great. I'm having a lot of fun and every kid dreams of playing for Team Canada when they're growing up."

Crusaders general manager Dan Auchenberg acknowledged the work the young goalie has put into her hockey career.

"As the first female to play in the AJHL," Auchenberg said in a release, "Shannon has had to face adversity and, as a result, she has proved her talent and determination.

"The AJHL has provided Shannon with an excellent opportunity to grow as a competitive goaltender and succeed in what has primarily been an all-male league. Shannon is capable of playing against the best in female hockey and is ready to move to the next level."

But she can't wait to get back to her teammates in Sherwood Park.

The AJHL club opened training camp while she was in Calgary for evaluation camp.

"It's a great league, so fast-paced, a great atmosphere," she said, noting she's being courted by NCAA schools in the U.S.

"I have two years of junior eligibility left and I'm going to school at U of A. I'm going to play out those years and then see what happens."


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