Szabados stays cool under pressure

Goalie shuts out U.S., Canada gets third straight gold

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Canada's women's hockey team celebrates with gold medals after beating USA. (Andre Forget/QMI AGENCY)



VANCOUVER — Edmonton’s Shannon Szabados spent her entire life playing against boys, so Thursday’s gold medal match against the United States was certainly not going to throw her for a loop.

With Prime Minister Stephen Harper, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, snowboard-cross gold medallist Maelle Ricker, actor Michael J. Fox and virtually the entire Canadian men’s hockey team among 16,805 screaming fans at GM Place, Szabados was the essence of cool, making 28 saves to lead the Canadian women’s hockey team to its third straight Olympic gold.

Szabados’s glove hand was money in the bank and she used it to keep the Americans at bay in the first and second periods, with the offence provided by another first-time Olympian, 18-year-old Quebec City native Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored twice in the first as Canada prevailed 2-0.

Szabados said part of the reason she was so relaxed was because head coach Melody Davidson did not tell her she was playing in the gold-medal game until Wednesday, which didn’t give her a lot of time to worry.

“As usual, Mel kept it to the last minute,” Szabados said with a laugh. “But I was obviously thrilled. That’s what I worked so hard for all year.”

Davidson said she gave Szabados the nod over Kim St-Pierre because she had been the most consistent goaltender for Canada all year.

“I’ll never forget the first meeting I had with her, and she said, ‘The only thing I have to ask of you Mel, is give me one game with the U.S.’ That’s all she asked,” Davidson said. “She grew up in the guys’ system. And I think she probably had to be 10 times better than anybody else to get to the level she played at.”

One of the guys Szabados grew up playing with in peewee and bantam hockey in Edmonton is Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf. After playing with boys in minor hockey, she continued on, becoming the first woman to play in the Western Hockey League. She also played on the men’s team at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton.

Szabados dedicated her game against the Americans to a former junior teammate, Matt Cook, who lost a leg to cancer. Inside her helmet she wore the letters FLM — Fight Like Matt.

As for Poulin, her two-goal output was something she actually dreamt about.

“I dreamed it, but I never thought it was going to be that fast,” she said. “I have no words to describe this right now. I can’t believe it.”

Canada’s two-goal first period was as much about passing the torch as passing the puck.

When Canadian team veteran Jennifer Botterill fed Poulin with a perfect pass in front of American goaltender Jessie Vetter, and Poulin buried it for Canada’s first goal of the game, the capacity crowd got a glimpse of the Canadian team’s future and past.

For Botterill, Vancouver represents her fourth Olympics. At 30, the Winnipeg native has been a member of the national team since 1997.

The Canadian team killed off pair of two-man advantages for the U.S. early in the game, thanks largely to the work of goaltender Szabados, before Botterill set up Poulin for a 1-0 lead.

Poulin scored another with 3:10 left in the opening frame, forcing her way into the slot and beating Vetter low, again to the glove side. For the rest of the game, the Canadians played conservatively, confident that Szabados would continue to shine. And she did.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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