Considering the performances they’ve put on over the last two weeks at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, it’s safe to say most Canadians know the names Carey Price and Shannon Szabados.
After all, being the starting goaltender in the Olympic gold medal game tends to bring a player a little bit of notoriety – not that either netminder needs it.
On that day, at the Ladner Leisure Centre, a 1,000-seat arena in a suburb 30 minutes south of Vancouver, B.C., the two young – and then unknown – goaltenders split the duties for the Tri-City Americans as they opened their Western Hockey League exhibition schedule against the Vancouver Giants.
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Just don’t ask Price to remember too many of the details.
“I remember it was Vancouver Giants, I would have been 15 years old,” Price said “I don’t recall whether we won or lost, but I think I played the first half and she played the second.”
Price, then 15, was the Americans’ goaltender of the future, the seventh-overall pick in that spring’s WHL Bantam Draft coming to his first training camp to get a taste of Major Junior hockey.
“I didn’t really know who he was at the time,” Szabados said of her first impressions of Price. “I knew he was their first-round pick, and the guy they wanted for their future. He was quiet at the time, and a great goalie.”
Sixteen-year-old Szabados earned her invite to camp thanks to a strong performance at the annual Mac’s Midget Tournament in Calgary, where she caught the eye of Tri-City general manager Bob Tory.
It was Price who got the start against the Giants, but the Anahim Lake, B.C., native didn’t fair too well.
Staked to a 2-0 lead before the game was six minutes old, Price allowed Vancouver to tie the game before the end of the first period, and surrendered two more early in the second before giving way to Szabados at the 9:30 mark of the middle frame, having allowed four goals on 21 shots.
The Giants gave Szabados a rude welcome; a shorthanded breakaway goal on the first shot she faced gave Vancouver a seemingly commanding 5-2 lead.
“I feel like I was so young, and it happened so fast,” Szabados said, looking back. “I remember Carey started the game, and I went in, and I’m pretty sure I let in the first shot – it was a breakaway – and then held the fort in the rest of the game, and we went into overtime.”
After Szabados settled in and the Americans mounted a third-period comeback with two goals in the last 3:18 to tie the game, Vancouver forward Robin Kovar ended the game 2:17 into the extra period.
The game was definitely not one for the goaltenders – the Giants and Americans combined for 11 goals, and 84 minutes in penalties led to 22 power plays, including one in overtime that led to Kovar’s winner.
Szabados finished with 20 saves on 22 attempts, and still likes to point out, with a laugh, that her performance was statistically better than that of Price, who knew right away that “she could play.”
“I remember she carried herself with a lot of confidence. Her ability spoke for itself. She was, and still is, a very good goaltender, and definitely was no less talented than anyone else at camp.”
But Tri-City had a crowded crease entering the 2002-03 season, and with future Colorado Avalanche draft pick Tyler Weiman firmly entrenched as the starter, Price and Szabados went their separate ways, although Szabados had one more piece of history to attend to.
While Price headed back to Midget AAA hockey in northern B.C., Szabados got into a regular season game with Tri-City on Sept. 22, again against Vancouver, playing 50 seconds in relief of Weiman to become the first, and still only, female to play in the WHL.
With her Major Junior experience done, the Edmonton native headed home to Alberta; she played 213 games over four seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, winning the AJHL Top Goaltender award after her final season in 2006-07.
She also has five years of experience in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference under her belt, winning an ACAC championship with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology last spring.
Oh, and let’s not forget the two Olympic gold medals – the gold she won on Thursday in Sochi pairs nicely with her prize from Vancouver 2010 – and the world championship she helped Canada win in 2012.
Szabados said going to Tri-City training camp in 2002 was a huge step for her, and not just as a goaltender.
“The biggest thing was the development as a person,” she said. “It was the first time I was away from home, 16 years old. I think it was a great organization for me to go to. What was important was getting out of my comfort zone both on and off the ice.”
Price played one more season of Midget hockey in 2002-03 before joining the Americans full-time the following year. He was the No. 1 goaltender by the 2004-05 campaign, was the fifth-overall pick by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and backstopped Canada to a gold medal at the 2007 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he earned MVP and Top Goaltender honours.
Now, close to 12 years later, the career paths of Price and Szabados have crossed again, this time in Sochi, 9,600 kilometres from the Ladner Leisure Centre.
The goaltenders stay in touch through social media, and exchange pleasantries whenever they’re at the same event, including in the Olympic Village.
Just don’t expect them to talk hockey.
“Whenever I run into him, it’s always ‘Hey, hello, how’s it going?’ and chat about general life,” Szabados said. “Not as much about a game, or anything about how he’s playing or I’m playing.”
“She’s had a lot of success,” Price added. “I don’t think there’s a whole lot about goaltending I can tell her that she doesn’t know already.”