Edmonton goalie leads women's hockey battle

By TERRY JONES, QMI AGENCY

As the Olympics draw closer the focus on the Canadian crease intensifies.

Who should be the national netminder? Martin Brodeur? Or Roberto Luongo?

But there's another Canadian crease. And there's room for great debate there, too.

Last night in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., the Canadian women's Olympic team, final countdown to picking Canada's other No. 1 netminder continued. And this is a goaltending battle turned upside down. If you were to analyze it at the start of the season, you would have figured Kim St. Pierre 1, Charlene Labonte 2 and Shannon Szabados 3.

It was Labonte in goal for Canada in in Game 26 of the 30-game series against Alberta Midget Hockey League teams last night, her first start of the new year.

The veteran who was in goal for the gold medal win in Torino four years ago was supposed to be battling Kim St. Pierre for the job as starter heading into Vancouver 2010, but there's every evidence that Edmonton's Szabados is No. 1 and the other two are battling for No. 2 as the team heads to Lloydminster for a game against the Bobcats Thursday and then into the city Friday to play the Edmonton Maple Leafs with St. Pierre getting one game and Szabados the other of the last two games in the six-game northern run for Team Canada.

Last week Szabados beat the first place St. Albert Raiders and Edmonton CAC to stretch her record to 9-0 against the Midget AAA teams. She'd played three of the last four games against AMHL teams - and stopped 52 shots to beat the Alberta Junior Hockey League Calgary Canucks 3-2 in their only start against tier two Jr. A opposition.

St. Pierre lost her start against the Sherwood Park last week and lost her previous midget start prior to Christmas in Medicine Hat and only played a period and a half in the three-game holiday series against the USA.

Szabados, who has a by far team best 1.79 goals against average and a by far team leading .943 save percentage in the series against Midget AAA opposition, won her first nine games in goal for Canada internationally, lost one to the U.S. in September and has won 15 in a row to make her 24-1.

St. Pierre, against the midgets, is 6-4 with a 3.10 goals against average while Labonte is 4-2, .316, .899.

This wasn't the way Melody Davidson had it envisioned when she took this team into residence for the season.

"She's got an opportunity to go to this Olympics as a rookie in whatever role we ask of her and then she's got a real good chance of being a starter for us at future Olympics," she was quoted as saying back when Szabados checked in.

The future very much looks like now for the Edmonton goalie.

"I think I've put myself in position to be No. 1," said Szabados. "Going in, I think I was pegged as No. 3. That was never the way I looked at it.

"Fortunately it's been a long season. We've played 45 games now and I got to play a lot and showcase myself, to go out there and prove I'm No. 1."

Szabados had spent her entire career playing with and against boys and men other than her time with the national team.

St. Pierre and Labonte have been in women's hockey and with the program for some time.

Labonte was 3-0 in Torino and in goal for the gold medal game. She's been part of four world championships.

St. Pierre has won two Olympic gold and is 6-0 at the big show. "It's been a tremendous 10 years," said St. Pierre.

"It's been the same all the way. You battle every day and be sure to play well and Mel makes the big decision at the end.

"It's been a bit different this time because Charlene was out for three months with an injury and Shannon has come in and played so well.

"No matter who Mel picks I think she's going to be right. All three of us can go in and do a great job."

All she knows is that this is going to likely be it for her and Davidson's projection for Szabados as the future starter is likely to be accurate.

"I'm probably at my last Olympics."

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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