Olympian goaltender arrives in Columbus

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerMarch 12, 2014 

Columbus Cottonmouths goaltender Shannon Szabados spent all day Wednesday traveling from her native Canada to Columbus to join her new team.

Now, the real journey begins.

The two-time, Olympic gold medalist for Team Canada will take her place in net for the Snakes sometime this weekend, becoming the first female player in the Southern Professional Hockey League's 10-year history. Since the announcement last week, Szabados has lived in a whirlwind.

"Actually, the last couple of weeks have been insane," she said after landing at the Columbus Metropolitan Airport Wednesday night. "It's been a whirlwind since Sochi. The phone's been ringing off the hook. I really planned to hang up my equipment and enjoy the summer. But this is so great. I'm enjoying every minute of it."

Jerome Bechard, Cottonmouths head coach and general manager, said he has also had a frenzied week.

"It's been pretty hectic," he laughed. "I've had everybody contacting me through email, text messages and Facebook from all over Canada and the United States. It's been pretty cool. It's been good for female hockey, men's hockey and hockey in general."

At the airport, Szabados was reunited with current Snakes and former Northern Alberta Institute of Technology teammates Jordan Draper, Kyle Johnson and Andy Willigar. The trio orchestrated contact between Bechard and Szabados, which resulted in the groundbreaking signing.

After exchanging hugs and greetings, Johnson, who is the team captain, reflected on the reunion.

"I was here last year," he said. "It makes me feel really good that coach listened when I recommended them and we were able to get three really good hockey players."

Willigar is in his first season with the team.

"It's lucky the three of us are already here, so she comes in knowing people," Willigar said. "Shannon is pretty special."

Szabados will participate in the Cottonmouths' light practice today and full practice on Friday. Bechard predicted she will play either Saturday night against Knoxville or Sunday afternoon against second-place Louisiana.

"I'm going to try not to bombard her with too much," Bechard said. "I want to get her acclimated and ready for one of the games this weekend. I'm hoping to know tomorrow, but I'm going to wait and see how she feels."

The Cottonmouths will introduce Szabados during a news conference today at noon in the lobby of the Columbus Civic Center. The event is open to the public.

There are only five regular-season contests remaining on the Cottonmouths' 2013-2014 schedule. The Snakes host Pensacola on tonight, followed by this weekend's contests, which conclude the home schedule. The Cottonmouths hit the road for the final weekend of the regular season, heading to Biloxi, Miss., and Huntsville, Ala., on March 21-22.

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