Column: Trudel’s comments on Szabados speak more about Peoria

New details continue to be added to Shannon Szabados’s untimely exit from the Peoria Rivermen of the SPHL and the more we learn, the stickier, and more sexist, the situation becomes.

Szabados, who was let go from the team Monday afternoon after playing only 50 minutes, most relief of rookie goaltender Storm Phaneuf, posted the worst numbers she’s ever allowed in the league – an average of 6.10 goals against and a save percentage of 0.792. In her first game, she allowed two goals on 15 shots while playing in relief. She was pulled in the next game after letting in three goals on nine shots.

Szabados previously stood between the pipes for the Columbus Cottonmouths of the SPHL, where she earned a 0.909 save percentage over her last 47 games in the crease.

Although her numbers were certainly an issue in Peoria, it is highly unusual for a coach to release a netminder after one poor performance, particularly one he pursued himself over the summer, per the Peoria Journal Star.

When the knee-jerk decision attracted attention at national levels, not a typical scenario for an SPHL team, let alone the Peoria Rivermen, head coach Jean-Guy Trudel took it a step further.

Trudel spoke with the CBC’s Doug Harrison later in the week that only compounded the dramatic nature of the story.  In the piece, released Thursday, Trudel told Harrison that Szabados had been removed from the team not just because she didn’t deserve to play – having only been signed with the Rivermen because of their interest in Carl Nielsen, according to Trudel – but also because of her effect on team morale.

“I tried to do something to get this great defenceman [sic] that plays 25 minutes a game, and it didn’t work out,” Trudel told CBC Sports. “It’s the first time I’ve dealt with a package deal and I won’t deal with it again. I think it’s wrong for the game of hockey. Maybe I’m old-school but I like to coach players who deserve to be here.”

His one concrete comment on Szabados’s play was that she struggled to cover the top corners quickly enough to play effectively in the SPHL. His quibble appears to be mainly focused on Szabados’s influence in the locker room, which has not been confirmed or refuted by players.

According to the piece, Trudel noticed a drastic change in team morale soon after Szabados and Nielsen joined the team in September. Trudel told the CBC cliques began to form, and what was once a close group of teammates became divided in the locker room and unproductive on the ice.

“They were always together and it became kind of weird,” said Trudel of Szabados and Nielsen. “Seeing the [other] players in the locker room, I just saw the situation being heavy on everyone. It was cancerous toward the team. I coach 18 players here so I need to make 18 players happy, not just two.”

Feb. 10, 2014 - Sochi, RUS - Canada goalie Shannon Szabados (1) turns aside a shot by Finland forward Emma Nuutinen (96) in the third period of a Winter Olympics women's hockey game at Shayba Arena in Sochi, Russia, Monday, February 10, 2014. Canada defeated Finland, 3-0 Photographer: MCT/Zumapress/Icon Sportswire

Feb. 10, 2014 – Sochi, RUS – Canada goalie Shannon Szabados (1) turns aside a shot by Finland forward Emma Nuutinen (96). Canada defeated Finland, 3-0 Photographer: MCT/Zumapress/Icon Sportswire

There is, of course, the possibility — and even likelihood — that the divisions and discomfort off the ice could have been caused by the intimation that a player is only rostered with a team because of their relationship with another, ostensibly better-qualified player.

Beyond that, however, is the fact that this narrative put out by Trudel is reminiscent of a well-worn trope used to discredit women for centuries: that “feminine wiles” secured their jobs, not aptitude.

The idea that Szabados is unqualified to hold a position in the SPHL is inflammatory, given her history of the past two seasons but could be backed up with Trudel’s experience with her numbers.

While many would raise their eyebrows, it would be brushed away by columns written about Szabados aging out of the men’s game and forgotten within weeks.

However Trudel damaged his own case with his decision to chalk her dismissal from the team up to her “weird” friendship with Nielsen and the way she interacted with teammates in the locker room. In doing so he clearly paints Szabados as an outsider: the cancer in the locker room, the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The woman on a team of men.

Further adding salt to that wound, Trudel told the CBC that despite Nielsen’s reported part in the change in morale, he would have happily welcomed the defender back to the roster had he been willing to go back on his reported condition of playing with Szabados.

Nielsen didn’t agree to do so, and was indefinitely suspended by the Rivermen.

Trudel’s candor displays unusual vitriol towards Szabados despite his closing remarks to the CBC in which he indicated he is fully supportive of Szabados as a person and player. While complimenting her leadership abilities he reminds readers that her duplicity in attempting to game a spot on the team blew up in her face.

“Shannon’s a great person, she loves the game of hockey and she’s a good leader on the ice,” he said. “Maybe…if she had come [to Peoria] by herself, gave it her all and focused on the team, maybe [the outcome] would have been different.”

By most accounts, including Nielsen’s own, Szabados is a seasoned professional, focused on playing at the highest level she possibly can — whether that’s on the Olympic stage or in the SPHL.

There were rumors that she would join the Canadian Women’s National Team at the Four Nations Tournament, however Hockey Canada just put those to rest in a press release.

By re-committing to the men’s game, Szabados appears to be taking the high road on her way out of Illinois. Hopefully, she won’t be looking for work for long.


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