Free time precious for players

Free time is precious when you’re a member of Canada’s national women’s hockey team.

WHEN SHANNON SZABADOS isn’t busy stopping pucks for Team Canada

WHEN SHANNON SZABADOS isn’t busy stopping pucks for Team Canada

Free time is precious when you’re a member of Canada’s national women’s hockey team.

Shannon Szabados and Catherine Ward looked at each other and laughed when asked what they like to do during that time.

“For all of us we are all pretty active,” said Szabados, who is in Penticton with Ward for the national women’s team centralization boot camp. “I enjoy movies, going out for dinner. I’m married, so hanging out with my husband. June 30 will be our one year.”

Ward enjoys being outdoors, music and cooking. She cooks a lot and watches shows, especially MasterChef.

“It’s just fun,” said Ward of MasterChef. “I like to see the recipes. The way they are making everything. Just learning a few tricks.”

Life for members of the Canadian team is handled through time management and prioritizing, especially if school needs to be juggled with hockey.

With the Sochi Olympics coming up, life gets a little easier as hockey becomes their main focus.

“In the Olympic years, so this year a centralization year, hockey is our full-time job,” said Szabados. “Days like this from 7 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. we are at the rink or doing off-ice work outs. We all take a year off school, off work.”

While at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Szabados studied to become a personal fitness trainer. She began her physical education combined degree to eventually become a teacher. In her final year at NAIT, Szabados, a goalie for NAIT, went 6-0 and helped the Ooks men’s team win their first Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championship. They edged the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Trojans 2-1 in double overtime on March 24 to clinch in four games. She said there are similarities between winning that and an Olympic gold medal.

“Obviously the Olympic gold medal was on a much bigger stage, but for our men’s college team, that was our Olympics,” said Szabados, who finished that playoff with a 1.87 goals against average. “It was a pretty special feeling. Definitely up there in my win column as one of the most special.”

Szabados lists 2006 Conn Smythe trophy winner Cam Ward, who she has worked at a goaltending school with, as one of her favorite players.

When asked what she likes about Ward, Catherine Ward (no relation) whispers to her that it’s his last name. Szabados chuckles.

“He’s just a really genuine guy off the ice,” she said. “I like his style of play, very calming. The guys in front of him never get rattled because he’s such a calm presence back there. Something I’d like to try to model myself after.”

Like Szabados, Ward had a successful season, but in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League with the Montreal Stars. She helped the Stars win the Clarkson Cup in 2011-12, then this past season was named the CWHL Defenceman of the Year.

“It was pretty special. Looking at the calibre of athletes, the people I was competing against, it’s very gratifying,” said Ward, who scored once and collected 12 assists in 21 games. “I think I really appreciate that recognition.”

Ward joined the CWHL following a three-year career with the McGill University Martlets in which she won a national championship and one season with Boston University Terriers playing in the championship game of the Frozen Four. Ward wasn’t sure what to expect. She went from being busy with school and playing hockey to playing hockey but not every day, that was an adjustment.

“It’s a new lifestyle to try and figure out,” she said. “Having time off was kind of weird.”

Ward saw improvement in her second season as a pro.

“I worked hard off the ice. Even if we are not on the ice as much, we still have ice time,” said Ward, who started playing with boys at age five. “Get ice time with a skills coach. That helps and in small groups. Work on individual skills.”

As a rookie, Ward noticed the CWHL game was played at a quicker pace and the players are stronger. She said it’s getting comparable to the Olympic stage, but there are teams that don’t possess the same depth as others.

As for playing in the Olympics and winning gold, Ward said it’s hard to describe the feeling.

“When it happened I don’t think I realized what was going on,” said Ward. “I just remember looking up and trying to find my parents. It was just crazy. It took me probably a few weeks to realize what had just happened. We were so focused on what the goal was. When you are there and you actually win the gold it’s like this is it. It was amazing an hopefully we can do it again in Russia.”

Ward said winning gold can change a players life, but only in discovering that “you know you can accomplish whatever you want.”

“It’s doable and nothing is too big to dream of,” said Ward, who looked up to Scott Niedermayer.

With two more days off (Sundays are off days) until June 19, Szabados and Ward said what they do during that time depends on the individual. Ward stressed taking the opportunity to relax.

“You have to take time off to really re-energize yourself,” said Ward, who had never been to Penticton but said it is amazing. “You are ready for the week ahead.”