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Playing with pressure

Working towards her second Olympic experience, Natalie Spooner has grown into a new role while dealing with her own heightened expectations

Jason La Rose
January 25, 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.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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