On Wednesday, Shannon Szabados, who is widely considered the best goaltender in the world, signed a contract with the Buffalo Beauts. Three days later, the women’s hockey world is still buzzing about the news. Szabados is a household name; an instantly recognizable icon due to the mane of black curls that spills out of the back of her goalie helmet. She’s also the first Canadian Olympian to sign an NWHL contract.
But don’t read too much into the Canadian star signing with the NWHL instead of the CWHL. For Szabados, the decision to sign with the Beauts was primarily about the franchise’s proximity to her home in northern Ohio, about a three hour drive away from the HarborCenter. Oh, and it also didn’t hurt that the Beauts are owned by the Pegulas — the owners of the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills.
“I knew Buffalo was the closest team [to home] and as summer went on it became, ‘Do I retire? Do I play there [in Buffalo]? Do I go back to play in a men’s league?’” Szabados explained to The Ice Garden. “That proximity and being able to travel back and forth and be in Buffalo when I need to be, and speaking with the organization and the staff and [hearing about] the direction that they’re headed with the team was the other factor.”
The Beauts’ new owners have been something of a game changer this offseason. Buffalo has landed some giant names in free agency, including Nicole Hensley, Kelly Babstock, and Dani Cameranesi. It didn’t take Szabados long at all to see just how valuable the Pegulas’ involvement and ownership is to the Beauts.
“I didn’t know a ton about them [the Pegula family] before, but I’ve quickly come to realize the impact they’ve had on this team and on the Buffalo community. Y’know, they have their hands in everything! One thing that really struck me is — this is my first day in Buffalo — and I’ve already met them!”
This is Shannon Szabados' first day in Buffalo and she has already met @KimPegula, the @BuffaloBeauts media team, the coaching staff, and a bunch of her teammates. The Pegulas are really raising the bar this offseason. I hope that other NHL owners are paying attention. #NWHL— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) June 28, 2018
With Szabados and Hensley between the pipes, the Beauts will almost certainly have the best goaltending duo in the NWHL next season. Together, the tandem has four Olympic medals and seven World Championship medals. As it turns out, the two already had a developing friendship because they share a mutual friend. The Beauts have been known for the camaraderie of their goaltenders since the NWHL’s inaugural season, and it looks like Szabados and Hensley are more than ready to continue that tradition.
Despite her seniority, Szabados is comfortable sharing the crease with the younger Hensley.
“I think every team in the league is going to have great goaltending, so no matter where you go you’re going to be in for a battle,” Szabados explained with a laugh. “I would assume that if you have two goalies of international caliber, you’re probably going to want to play both of them.”
Despite living south of the border, Szabados still plans to represent Team Canada next season at Four Nations in Saskatchewan and at the 2019 Women’s Worlds in Finland. “I would love to wear the red and white for as long as I can,” she shared. “I had some conversations with Hockey Canada — you know, most of our players play in the CWHL — so I just had a chat with them and said, ‘Hey, this is where I’m going to be living and this makes the most sense for me.’ They were behind me 100 percent.”
Szabados has already accomplished more than most athletes dare to dream of. She was the first woman to play in the WHL, the first woman to play in the Southern Professional Hockey League (a professional men’s league), and she’s won three Olympic medals with Team Canada. For more than a decade Szabados has demanded the attention of the hockey world with her historic achievements and brilliant play. Now, as a Buffalo Beaut, she will try to become the first Canadian Olympian to lift the Isobel Cup.