As the goaltender that earned a 2-0 shutout en route to Canada’s gold medal win in women’s hockey at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, one might assume Shannon Szabados stayed up well into the night celebrating the game of her life, at least so far.
Much to the contrary, 24-year-old Szabados says she was drifting off to sleep by about midnight.
“I was the complete opposite,” she said with a chuckle. “We were at the (Molson Canadian) Hockey House and I was so tired and just emotionally drained, so I maybe stayed there an hour.”
Szabados said she told her ecstatic friends and family, “I know you guys are super excited, but I can’t do it right now, I’m so tired.”
But as she describes the determined focus she felt from when she woke up at 7 a.m. on Feb. 25 to the moment when the final buzzer sounded inside Canada Hockey Place, it only makes sense that the mental energy she used to concentrate on the task at hand – let alone the physical energy she used during the game to protect Canada’s net – wiped the young goaltender out.
Szabados said her plan was to have “the best sleep ever” the night before the gold medal game, but the anticipation forced her out of bed bright and early, and she immediately started thinking about “how the game might play out and what I had to do to get ready.”
The key to success for Szabados may have been not over-thinking the on-ice obstacle ahead of her.
Although the Edmonton, Alta. native had dreamed of that day her entire life, Szabados said she began looking at it as “just a tournament and just another game,” rather than feeling the weight of an entire nation that would accept nothing less than Olympic gold. “I was so calm.”
Szabados carried that intense concentration into her morning workout, then returned to her room in the Athletes Village for a much-needed nap before a final team meeting. Soon after, she and her teammates were off to the rink for their last chance to get ready for the game they had been preparing for all season.
“I’m pretty low-key,” she said. “Some of the girls are loud and they like dancing and singing. I just go sit in my stall … and put my head down.”
During those pre-game moments, Szabados also remembers “sitting on the bench, just by myself and looking at the arena, and trying to picture the fans being there.”
When she finally did step onto the ice to a packed arena, despite staying focused Szabados couldn’t help but notice how loud the crowd was before the first puck drop. She didn’t even hear her name when the starting line-ups were announced. But when time started ticking on the clock, Szabados blocked out the thousands of hockey-crazed Canadians in the stands – and all 28 shots she faced.
She also couldn’t help but show her excitement when Marie-Philip Poulin scored the opener at 13:55 of the first period, since she had never been so happy to see a goal before.
Szabados said that’s when she knew, “we got this.”
After Poulin’s second marker a few minutes later, Szabados knew she and her teammates just needed to stay strong through two more periods in order for their Olympic dream to become a reality, and that’s exactly what they did, keeping the offensive pressure off her while she stood on guard for thee between the posts.
And as the dying seconds wound down in the third, Hayley Wickenheiser “started throwing her hands in the air” and skated toward Szabados, ready to celebrate.
“The buzzer went maybe like a second after she jumped on me,” Szabados said of finally having the chance to relax and enjoy the moment, as her teammates piled on top of her and fans across the country soaked it up with them.
Much like she was able to manage the heavy expectations of those fans, to Szabados even the medal placed around her neck felt lighter than its one pound weight. “Everyone talks about how heavy the medals are, but at the time I had no idea – it was weightless to me.”
So has the hefty significance of her historical accomplishment finally sunk in?
“I still can’t believe not only that we won, but that I played in that game and that I got a shutout,” she said. “It just seems surreal to me. I couldn’t have planned it any better if I were to dream about it.”
Considering she really is still having dreams about what it would be like to eventually play in the Olympic final, it’s safe to say that it will take a long time for such a magical accomplishment to seem real.
Appropriately so, since for Szabados – and her fellow members of the National Women’s Team – this will be a celebration that lasts their entire lives.