Hockey

Mike Brophy - Monday Dec. 16, 2013 10:09 ET

Szabados, Labonte give Canadian women depth in goal

Unlike the men’s team, goaltending not an issue for Team Canada’s women

szabados-shannon-goalie-cp-04230397
Shannon Szabados is the likely starting goalie for Team Canada in Sochi. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

How lucky is the Canadian women’s Olympic hockey team?

While the men’s squad doesn’t have a clue who its three goalies will be – never mind who will start – the women’s team believes it could throw the names of all three of its stoppers into a hat, pull one out randomly and still challenge for the gold medal.

That’s how it rolls when two of your three goalies have already started – and won – Olympic gold medal games.

Edmonton’s Shannon Szabados, who won the gold medal game in 2010 in Vancouver, is the leading contender to be Canada’s No. 1 goalie in Sochi. The 27-year-old Szabados made 28 saves in a 2-0 victory over their bitter rivals from the United States.

She was named to the Olympic All-Star team.

Szabados will likely be backed up by Charline Labonte of Boisbriand, Que., who just happened to be the starter and winner of the gold medal game in Turin in 2006. Labonte, 31, made seven saves in the 2006 gold medal game against Sweden.

Genevieve Lacasse, 24, is the understudy – Canada’s goaltender of the future – but the team would be comfortable with her should she be pushed into action.

“Goaltending is definitely one of our great strengths and always has been,” said Team Canada general manager Melody Davidson.

“We have three goalies. They are all going to Sochi and it’s just a matter of who is going to be the starter in the gold medal game.

“They’re going to have a terrific opportunity to showcase themselves and earn the spot.”

Neither Davidson, nor former coach Dan Church, would commit to who the starter will be even if both admitted it’s Szabados’s job to lose. Both know things change as the Games approach. It certainly has in the past.

“We’re fortunate that we have two goalies that have Olympic gold medal game experience. We have a strong. We have a third who, if either of the first two falters, she could easily take their position,” Davidson said.

Pressure performer

Szabados is considered a big-game goaltender. She has a history of playing her best in big games both against men and women. She is solid on rebound control.

“She’s just so competitive in the net that she battles hard and makes big saves look easy,” Church said.

Szabados says the way she performs under pressure is one of her major strengths. “I feel like I’m the type of player where the more pressure there is, the more I like it,” she said.

“I have learned that as a goalie there is a lot of pressure on you all the time. For us as a team, being a hockey team from Canada, there’s a lot of pressure on us as well. To play at this level you have to be good at dealing with that type of pressure.”

Labonte is a strong technical goaltender who plays the puck well. “She is a calm presence back there,” Church said.

She also thrives when the heat is on. “I feel like there is a lot of pressure, but it’s also something that we like as goalies. We like to have that responsibility to be perfect. That is what we strive for.”

Although Lacasse doesn’t have the Olympic experience the others boast, she’s certainly athletic enough to earn a spot as the starter in the final.

Canada has the luxury of having three of the best netminders in the world on its roster and they should give the team a chance to win every game.

Canadian men's Olympic goalies

Each week, CBC's Tim Wharnsby ranks the top contenders for the three goalkeeper spots on the Canadian men's Olympic team based on their play to date.

1. Roberto Luongo (Vancouver) — He has reeled off five consecutive wins and has surrendered only six goals during this impressive five-game run. 

2. Josh Harding (Minnesota) — Among Canadian goalies with 15 or more starts, he has the best save percentage at .939 and lowest goals-against average at 1.49.

3. Carey Price (Montreal) — He dropped two in a row earlier last week, but recovered with a 21-save shutout on Long Island on Saturday.

4. Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh) — He bounced back with successive wins at home over the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils last week to expand his season total to 18.

5. Corey Crawford (Chicago) —  The Stanley Cup winner has missed four games with a lower-body injury and hasn't played since Dec. 8.

With files from Tim Wharnsby

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