With the arrival of her first National Women’s Hockey League All-Star weekend, Beauts goaltender Shannon Szadabos is looking forward to having some fun.
Szabados, the two-time Olympic gold medalist for Team Canada, was named captain of her own All-Star squad, Team Szabados, and she was able to draft the players.
Savannah Harmon, Hayley Scamurra and Blake Bolden make up Team Szabados’ representatives from Buffalo.
On the opposing Team Stecklin, captained by Minnesota Whitecaps’ Lee Stecklein, the Beauts are represented by Emily Pfalzer, Lisa Chesson, Dani Cameranesi and Nicole Hensley, with whom Szabados shares time in net.
“I wish I could have drafted them all on my team,” she said, laughing.
The All-Star festivities in Nashville will be a change of pace from the intensity of the regular season.
The Beauts are on a five-game winning streak with three regular-season games remaining. Buffalo is tied for second with Boston, two points behind Minnesota.
Szabados’ goaltending has been a big part of that run and of the Beauts’ success. Her .944 save percentage is the best in the NWHL. She has a 1.38 goals-against average.
“I’ve had a blast,” Szabados said of her first season in the league. “I am happy to be in Buffalo and with the way things have unfolded.
“I had heard about this organization before I signed, but I’m getting to see first-hand what a first-class organization this is. It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve had fun playing in this league as well.”
As the NWHL looks to expand its brand and gain exposure with All-Star weekend, the players will take part in a skills competition today before the game Sunday. The game is at Bridgestone Arena following the Predators’ game against the St. Louis Blues.
Here is more from Szabados on the All-Star Game, her experiences in Buffalo and the Beauts’ turnaround:
Q: What are your goals for this weekend?
A: Just to have fun and help promote the game. It’s been really exciting being in Nashville. Everyone I came into contact with was super excited. I met a lot of people at the Preds game (Thursday night) who told me they were coming to the skills competition and the all-star game. There’s a lot of excitement around it.
Q: The NWHL game is after the Predators game against St. Louis. How do you feel about the setup rather than it being a standalone event?
A: The Preds and the NHL garner a lot of attention. You saw the girls that went to the NHL skills competition and the recognition and the attention that it got. Once people see women’s hockey and how fast it is and the skill in the game, they’re hooked. The biggest thing with our game is getting people exposed to it. Playing after the Preds game and using their arena, a lot of that will help the game get the exposure that it deserves.
Q: Kendall Coyne Schofield is on your team and made headlines for her participation in the NHL All-Star Skills Competition. What was your impression of her being involved?
A: I know the way it kind of exploded and took over the Internet, but for me, or people who have seen her skate, it wasn’t that big of a surprise. I know how fast she is, but it was nice to see her get the attention she deserves. She’s a great athlete.
Q: You had to draft the team for the All-Star Game, but some of your Beauts teammates are on the other side. What will that be like for you?
A: Most of them I’m used to playing against because they have played for Team USA. The girls are here for a reason because they have played well for the year. We’re enjoying it and having fun with everyone. I’m looking forward to getting to know my new teammates that I don’t play with day in and day out in the NWHL and having fun against the Beauts.
Q: The Beauts have won five in a row and six of the last seven. What’s been the biggest difference in this run?
A: I think we’re progressing as a team and getting to know each other. We’re starting to play as one. Everyone is starting to know where each other will be and what systems we want to play.
The team had a lot of new faces. We had a lot of players out of college who are used to one system. Everyone wasn’t quite on the same page, but we’ve gotten to know each other as players on and off the ice. It’s coming together at the right time.
Q: The team changed coaches with Ric Seiling being replaced by Cody McCormick and then changed general managers with Cody taking over for Nik Fattey. How did the players react to the changes?
A: I don’t know there was much of a reaction. There wasn’t a lot said. We’re professional athletes and that’s part of the business. You deal with it and move on.
Q: You live in Ohio so there is quite a commute to Buffalo. Plus, you played for Canada in the Four Nations Cup and are playing in the Rivalry Series against Team USA next week. That’s a lot of miles. How are you feeling?
A: Physically, I’m fine. I’ve never felt better. Sometimes the travel gets a little draining mentally. … When the weather is bad, it could be up to 20 hours a week of travel. But when I leave Ohio, I leave knowing that I get to be on the ice and get to play hockey and do what I love to do. So it’s not as bad as it sounds.
Q: You posted a video of yourself with some new gear and wrote that it still makes you feel like a 10-year-old on Christmas morning. What keeps that excitement going?
A: I just love playing hockey. I started playing when I was 5 years old. That’s 27 years ago and I’m enjoying it as much or more than the day I started. That’s why I continued playing this year and signed in Buffalo.
Q: There is still plenty of hockey to go, but have you started to look ahead to your plans for next season?
A: Not really. I feel like I’ve done that in the past and end up leaning one way or the other and then I completely change my mind. I’ve learned to see how summer goes and see what opportunities come up. A lot of things go into making that decision as to where I play or if I play. My focus is on the rest of the year and the summer and I’ll go from there.