The idea began two years ago as Shannon Szabados started to think about her future in hockey. After the 2018 Olympics she would make a decision. Would she retire? Play for fun? Play professionally?
And as she was thinking, only one real hockey destination was in her mind.
That's right, one of the greatest goaltenders for Team Canada, a native of Edmonton, Alberta, had her sights set on Buffalo, N.Y., although few people knew her plan.
Which is why when she signed with the Buffalo Beauts of the National Women's Hockey League this week, she turned more than a few heads in the women's hockey world.
"I think that's the question. I think the signing came as a surprise to some people but my boyfriend, he's from Ohio," Szabados said. "Two years ago we decided after the Olympics we were going to move back to Ohio and so Buffalo has kind of been on my radar ever since then just because of its proximity. Then I had the chance to talk to some of the staff and learn a little bit more about the team and the direction they want to go and that swayed me. But proximity was the No. 1 thing."
Szabados has two Olympic gold medals with Team Canada, including earning the dramatic 3-2 overtime win in 2014. In 2018 she took silver as the United States won, 3-2, in a shootout.
She took time off after the Olympics, but realized at age 31 she wasn't ready to retire.
"The longer after the Olympics, I kind of missed putting the skates on and I'm like 'I’m not ready to hang them up yet,' " Szabados said as she met Western New York media in HarborCenter Thursday morning. "Buffalo is the closest team and getting to talk with them and where they're headed sold me on it."
Szabados made it clear proximity to Ohio was the reason she chose Buffalo over any other NWHL or Canadian Women's Hockey League team. As with many players, she expressed a desire that the leagues would one day merge.
But for now, this is where the game is. And that's already light years ahead of where it was when Szabados began her career.
She grew up making history, being the first female to appear in a game in the Western Hockey League and the first female to play in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Her biggest splash came when she played professional men's hockey, mostly with the Columbus (Georgia) Cottonmouths in the Southern Professional Hockey League. There she became the first female goaltender to win an SPHL game on Nov. 21, 2014, making 34 saves in a 5-4 overtime win over the Fayetteville FireAntz.
Then on Dec. 27, 2015, she became the first woman to record a shutout in a men's professional league in a 33-save, 3-0 win for the Cottonmouths over the Huntsville Havoc.
She's been collecting a paycheck for playing pro men's hockey for a number of years now. But to get paid to play in a women's pro league is both special and a bit daunting in ways.
"I've played my entire career on a men's team and guys' teams growing up," Szabados said. "When I started it was my only option. It's great to see the growth of women's hockey and where it is today. There's still a lot of work to be done but we're headed in the right direction for sure."
She admitted to being a little nervous about the signing, in part about the perception that she, a Canadian, was choosing the American league over her home country.
"But also coming from the men's game. I've never played in a women's league before. I kind of knew it would create a little bit of a stir. … It's a new league for me. Unfamiliar. I think it's just another step in the journey. Any league I went to was going to have its own challenges. I think for me it will just be adapting to the women's game but I've been around it long enough. I've played on the national team for 10 years now. I kind of have an idea what to expect."