GANGNEUNG, South Korea – The connection between goaltenders Ben Scrivens and Shannon Szabados started back in their teenage days, when he played for the Calgary Canucks and she suited up for the Sherwood Park Crusaders in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Rivals on the ice, a friendship grew off it as each climbed the ladder, him up to the NHL, her to the women’s national team, and they unexpectedly found themselves sharing the ice again March 5, 2014 when the Edmonton Oilers needed a fill-in at practice and called on Szabados.
Their paths are crossing again at Pyeongchang 2018 as netminders for the women’s and men’s Canadian national teams. They had been trying to figure out when they might be able to get together and catch up when they had a chance encounter last Friday at the Gangneung Hockey Centre’s practice facility, when the men were coming off and the women followed them on right after.
For the 10 or so minutes it took to resurface the ice, they chatted by the corner glass.
“It was awesome to see him here. It’s exciting,” said Szabados. “(Men’s team forward) Mason Raymond also played in the AJHL (with Camrose), so it’s cool to see how excited they are to get this opportunity.”
Added Scrivens: “It was a cool moment. She followed in my footsteps and now I get to follow in her footsteps (by playing in the Olympics). She’s a trailblazer for her sport, it’s definitely an honour to know her and support her. She’s such a big name in Canadian hockey, it’s a pleasure to share the ice with her.”
Scrivens played 40 minutes Monday in Canada’s 4-1 win over Sweden in the men’s final pre-tournament warmup, a sign he might be between the pipes for Thursday’s Olympic opener versus Switzerland.
Meanwhile Szabados, who helped Canada win gold at a fourth straight Olympics at the 2014 Sochi Games, was on the bench as the women opened their tournament with a 5-0 win over Russia on Sunday.
Ann-Renee Desbiens made 18 saves for the shutout in her Olympic debut and head coach Laura Schuler skirted a question about why she started over Szabados.
“I’ve been so happy with all three of our goalies, they’re three world-class goalies and all three of them have performed very well for us in international play,” Schuler said Sunday. “Ann’s been solid for us, so happy to see her be able to get that shutout.”
The women play Finland on Tuesday before a highly anticipated matchup against the archrival Americans on Thursday, so the meaningful decision on a starter there is still to come.
Scrivens has seen Szabados persevere ever since they first met, and has lots of faith in her ability to perform.
“She’s a strong person, strong character,” said Scrivens. “She had to put up with stuff no one else would have had to, not just in junior but right up into her pro career. A lot of people second-guessed her ability, which is crazy in my opinion. But she fought through it and she’s shown how good a goalie and a person she is.”
One thing he wasn’t impressed with is the wheeled skateguards Szabados has been using to cover the long treks from the dressing rooms to the ice at the Kwandong Hockey Centre.
“I was giving her a hard time about those,” Scrivens quipped. “They serve a purpose but I don’t know if I fit that niche of market.”
The guards are popular with kids who like to arrive at their hockey games already dressed, but Szabados got a pair before the women took the ice at the Gangneung Hockey Centre’s practice facility, which is a particularly long walk from the dressing room.
For the Games at least, they’re coming in handy.
“It’s actually not too bad, you just can’t turn or anything. That caught me off-guard the first time,” said Szabados. “Sochi was a little tough trying to get around so we were lucky our staff got us those. Save some energy. I’d never worn them before but they’re saving my legs. There are some long walks that aren’t fun in goalie equipment.”