by Kathy McGrath

Centennial residents have a personal stake in the upcoming Winter Olympics taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea from Feb. 9 to 25.

Local athlete Natalie Spooner, a member of the Canadian Women’s Olympic Hockey Team, will represent our country for a second time at the Games, and now assumes a leadership role.

The 27-year-old forward will take the experience she gained four years ago helping her team win gold in Sochi and use it to mentor younger teammates feeling the pressure of a nation for the first time.

“I was lucky to play with Hayley Wickenheiser (also her roommate) at the last Olympics because she really took me under her wing and made me feel comfortable,” Natalie explained in an email to the CCRA Centennial News. “If I can help the younger girls feel confident, then I think it will help our team.

“Being a women’s hockey player in a country that loves hockey and has always been successful is a lot of pressure,” she acknowledges. “But as a team, we embrace the pressure and go out there and play our best. I’m hoping to just enjoy every moment and have a great experience in Korea.”

Natalie says that, despite having to face a strong rival in Team USA, the Canadian team has been preparing for the Games since August and is “ready to go win another gold medal.” At the last Olympics, Natalie scored the first two goals in Canada’s 3-1 semi-final victory over Switzerland en route to the gold medal game.

Natalie started playing hockey at age 4 on the family’s backyard rink and on the Rouge Marsh at the end of Lawrence Ave. Her first organized season was with the Scarborough Hockey Association house league. Her career continued with the Durham West Lightning, Team Ontario, the Ohio State Buckeyes, Toronto Furies and the Canadian National Team.

During the 2016-17 CWHL season, Natalie became the first player in the history of the Toronto Furies to reach 90 career points. She also became the all-time leading scorer in Furies history.

Locally, Natalie went to French immersion at William G. Miller Junior Public School and Joseph Brant Senior Public and then attended Cedarbrae Collegiate where she was named athlete of the year for four consecutive years. The hockey star still lives in Centennial during the summers, taking advantage of the opportunity to run or walk along the waterfront. She has fond childhood memories of having friends over in the winter to skate on the family’s backyard rink.

When she’s not playing hockey, Natalie is busy operating the Natalie Spooner High Performance Hockey Academy, which runs in partnership with her gym, ETS (Elite Training Systems), in Whitby. In 2014, Natalie and her Sochi teammate Meaghan Mikkelson were chosen to compete in the second season of the reality TV show The Amazing Race Canada. They were fan favourites as they won seven out of 11 legs, but finished second in the end.

Natalie will be cheered on at the Games by her parents, her three brothers and two of their partners, as well as her boyfriend.