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Hockey superstar Natalie Spooner on the PWHL, life at the cottage, and being an Olympian

Natalie Spooner has had a banner couple of years. At the end of 2022, she welcomed her first child, Rory. Just a few months later (!), she hit the ice for Canada at the 2023 Women’s World Hockey Championship in Brampton, Ont., (scoring the first goal for the team, no less). And earlier this year, she made her Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) debut for Toronto in the league’s inaugural game—one that earned the eyes of about 3 million Canadians from coast to coast. Oh, and did we mention she bought a cottage and got married, too? Here, we chat with Natalie about playing in the PWHL, the story behind a career-defining Olympic moment with Hayley Wickenheiser, and her favourite things to see and do around cottage country.

The PWHL is finally here! It’s been a long road. Congratulations. Take us back to your first game: you’re all geared up, standing there with your team in front of a sold-out crowd—what’s going through your head?

There were so many emotions. Feeling like you’re part of something so historic and looking out at all the people in the seats, it’s hard to explain. My body was vibrating with all of the energy that was in the building. Then, when Billie Jean King came out to drop the puck, I mean, it was such a moment. 

You also scored Toronto’s first PWHL goal ever a few weeks after that. How does it feel knowing your name will be in the history books for that, along with being a decorated Olympian, of course!

It was really cool. Our team needed a goal and it was on the power play in front of the net. I was just shooting in the rebounds, but that’s kind of what got our team rolling and then we won that game. So getting our first win, our first power play goal…there were a lot of firsts in that game! Plus, being from Toronto and getting to score the first goal for Toronto, that was a special moment for sure.

Does it feel different playing in this league?

It does. There were so many ups and downs and times where we thought it wasn’t going to happen, so just getting here and finally playing feels huge. I think we’re also realizing that this is much bigger than we could have ever imagined, and we’re really grateful to the people who are supporting us by watching and coming to our games. We can’t thank them enough. Every time we get on the ice, we feel so excited that we get to do this because we want all those little girls watching to be able to have that dream of playing professional women’s hockey. At the same time, we’re realizing our own dreams.

This year marks 10 years since your first Olympic appearance for Team Canada. You’ve talked before about a career-defining moment you had with hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser before one of your games in Sochi. What happened?

Well, going into your first Olympics is one of the most nerve-wracking things ever. I remember coming out for what I think was the final game, and I was absolutely sick from my head to my toes. There were so many people in the stadium, so many people watching, and I started to feel very nervous about what all these people would think about my game. At one point Hayley looked at me and said, “Spooner, go out there, play your game, and don’t worry what anyone else thinks.” That’s when it all clicked. She’s one of the best players in the world and someone I really look up to. If she thinks I deserve to be here, how am I not believing that myself? It really gave me that sense of belief back that I was good enough to be there.

Now, especially with the younger players coming up through the league, I always try to make sure they feel comfortable and confident because I remember how powerful Hayley’s words were for me. Supporting each other makes us all better in the end. And even as a mom, I hope Rory feels that he can go out there and do whatever he wants, whether it’s in sports, music, or theatre. It’s important that he has the confidence to know that he can achieve whatever he sets his mind to.

We have to ask: not only did you play for Team Canada at the Women’s World Hockey Championship last April just four months after giving birth, but you also scored the first goal for the team in that tournament. Leading up to that, you only missed eight weeks of hockey during your pregnancy. Are you superhuman!?

Ha. I don’t think so! I mean, timing-wise, it worked out that I was able to be at Worlds after having Rory. But during my pregnancy, I really wanted to make sure that I was still feeling the puck and skating well and feeling good on the ice as much as I was allowed to. I was mostly doing skill sessions and power skating, and that gave me some sense of normalcy and balance, honestly. My whole life I’ve always loved being on the ice, skating fast, and having the wind in my hair. It’s always made me feel very free and you sort of forget about any worries you might have, so it was important for me to be on the ice as much as I could. That’s my happy place.

Speaking of happy places…let’s talk about your cottage in Port Carling, Ont. When did you buy it and how did it all go down?

We actually bought it in 2020, sort of just as COVID was hitting. I’d been up to Muskoka a few summers in a row because my friend, Mickey, who I competed against on the Amazing Race Canada, owns What Wake Park in Bala, Ont. I spent time there wakeboarding and always loved the area in general. 

At the time, my husband, Adam, and I were kind of looking at getting an investment property and went to look at a few cottages. We saw one that we fell in love with, so we put in an offer and, luckily, we were the successful buyers.

Were you confident the offer was going to go through or was it one of those nail-biters?

We were definitely not confident. There were something like 12 other offers on the property, and this was in September when a lot of other people were trying to buy cottages as well. 

Wow. You really were lucky! What is it that you love so much about the spot?

I love the quaintness of the cottage, and the land that it’s on, that really sold us. It’s at the end of the road so it feels quite private. There’s a little slope down to the water, which leads to a nice sandy area, and the cottage came with canoes and kayaks and paddleboards, so it felt really perfect. 

Is it an all-season cottage?

Yeah, it is. During COVID when I wasn’t playing hockey, we would go up there way more often, in the winter too. When I was pregnant we were also able to go up a bit more, but now that I’m back in season we haven’t been there as much. 

You’re coming up on four years of ownership now. Tell us what the cottage means to you. Is it your zen place? Somewhere you can get away from it all?

Definitely. When I go up there, I’m not really worried about things like hockey or training. It’s really just family time. We go up for a full week together in the summer with my siblings and parents, and we all really look forward to that. 

Any cottage traditions you and your family have started since being there?

We seem to always eat grilled cheese while we’re there, which is kind of funny. Other than that we do quite a bit of fishing, and there’s always a lot of competition to see who can catch the biggest fish. So far it’s been my sister-in-law, but the last time it was me!

Do you get into any board or card game competition while you’re up there?

We like Codenames and Apples to Apples, and the last time we were up there we played one of those murder-mystery games where you have to work together to solve a mystery. Those are fun!

You also got married at your cottage. Was that planned?

No, it wasn’t. We were actually supposed to get married in Niagara at a winery, but because of COVID everything got changed around, so we decided to just go ahead and have it at the cottage. It ended up being so beautiful and perfect. We had a big dance party and the scenery was gorgeous with the lake, we wouldn’t have changed it for anything. Plus, having our wedding there feels extra special since we’ll always have that memory there. 

Is getting married your favourite memory you’ve made at the cottage so far?

Probably. Actually, it might be a tie between our wedding and the first time we brought Rory up there. That was a really cool experience. My husband grew up in Alberta and had a cottage. He has so many memories of being there as a kid, doing all these different activities and being outdoors in nature, so I’m really looking forward to Rory having those same experiences. You know, going fishing, going out on the water. It’s exciting to think about all the fun he’s going to have up there.

We’re gonna do a little pop quiz now. We’ll ask you some rapid-fire cottage questions and you’ll just tell us the first thing that comes to mind. First one: favourite drink, alcoholic or non-alcoholic, to have at the cottage?

Alcoholic, let’s go with a dark and stormy. Non-alcoholic, I’d say a grapefruit-flavoured Bubly.

Favourite Kawartha Dairy ice cream flavour?

Cookie Dough, in a cup!

Waterski or wakeboard?

Waterski.

Tubing or paddleboarding?

Tubing.

Sunrise or sunset?

Sunrise. I mean, they’re both so great, but seeing the sunrise and knowing you have the full day ahead of you is exciting.

Favourite cottage-country hidden gem?

I don’t know if it’s really a hidden gem, but our family always orders fish and chips from Bass Lake Roadhouse in MacTier, Ont., every time we go up. It’s a bit of a tradition.

Okay, last one. Raisin, plain, or pecan butter tarts?

I have the biggest sweet tooth, so I’d eat any of them. But if I had to choose, I’d probably say pecan.

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