Hockey January 26, 2018


Natalie Spooner has been here before, but that doesn’t mean it gets any
easier.

An Olympic rookie four years ago, Spooner arrived in Calgary for her second
centralization with a better understanding of what the next six months
would look like, but with a mindset to expect the unexpected.

“I think I had a grasp of what to expect, but you never really know what
it’s going to be like because every time is different,” she says. “This
time, I wouldn’t say it was easier – the process is just as hard, you’re
working just as hard – so it’s definitely different. The amount of games we
played, the training … it’s pretty new every four years, and things are
evolving.”

And as the centralization process has evolved, so has Spooner.

The Scarborough, Ont., native has gone from being “timid and a little shy”
in the lead-up to Sochi (even if no one who has met Spooner would ever use
those words to describe her) to taking a larger role in PyeongChang
preparations, embracing her veteran status.

“I want to be an impact player and contribute,” she says. “I know what to
expect now, and I can help the younger girls who are going into their first
time – help them feel comfortable and play their best.

“[Hayley Wickenheiser] was that person for me at the 2014 Olympics – she
took me under her wing and made sure I felt comfortable and confident going
into those Games, so I think if I can do that for some of the younger
girls, then I’m helping out a little bit.”

But while Spooner has done her part in the dressing room, her big focus
remains on getting her game ready for a return to the biggest stage in
sports.

It is of little surprise that representing Canada at the Olympic Winter
Games comes with pressure. But while the eyes of a nation will be on her,
Spooner admits the highest expectations come from within.

For the 27-year-old, how those expectations are handled makes all the
difference in the world.

“Sometimes you have to step back and not put that pressure on and just play
your game, because I think you’re going to play your best when you’re
having fun and relaxed,” Spooner says. “There have definitely been those
times this season where you put that pressure on yourself and you feel like
you’re not playing well, and that’s when you have to just go out and play
free and have fun.

“There are so many ups and downs in a centralization. There are games where
you feel like you can do anything, and games where the puck just doesn’t
want to sit for you. But it’s about growing from those games and realizing
how to play when you don’t feel like things are going your way.”

OK … but what about the outside pressure?

Spooner is one of the most recognizable faces on Canada’s National Women’s
Team, thanks in part to her 2014 gold, an outsized personality and a
successful run on The Amazing Race Canada. With that notoriety comes
opinions, both good and bad.

“There are always positives and negatives people are going to say about
you,” she says, “so I just have to forget about those and just go out and
be me, and if people like me, they like me, and if they don’t, they don’t.”

Quite frankly, Spooner doesn’t have much time to think about the opinions
of others. She is too busy preparing for PyeongChang, where she’ll likely
join an exclusive club by appearing in her 100th international game (she
currently sits at 96).

After finding Sochi success, she is hoping for more of the same this time
around.

“Last Olympics, I had so much fun. It was the best experience of my life,
so far, and hopefully this one can top it. I’m looking to have a lot of
fun, and just play some hockey.”

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