Canada's Natalie Spooner embraces challenges inside and outside of hockey

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Canada's Natalie Spooner embraces challenges inside and outside of hockey
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CALGARY — Natalie Spooner is comfortable out of her comfort zone.

The veteran forward on Canada's women's hockey team has carved out a public persona outside of hockey tackling international travel racing and figure skating for reality TV.

Spooner was good at both, which kept her in front of a broad television audience that might not have known she was a good hockey player too.

"I like the feeling of proving myself wrong," Spooner told The Canadian Press.

"When I realize what I've got myself into sometimes I'm like 'oh boy', but the feeling I feel afterwards, having accomplished something that was totally outside my comfort zone, or something I never thought I would do, is a feeling I quite like."

She and Andrew Poje finished second to Sheldon Kennedy and Kaitlyn Weaver in the fifth season of "Battle of the Blades" in 2019.

The show pairs elite hockey players with figure-skating counterparts to perform routines in front of judges and a live audience.

Figure skating in costume to "Juicy Wiggle" with Poje was an outlet for Spooner's extroversion not easily seen when she's in hockey gear and wearing a mask.

"As a competitive person I hate when I'm bad at things," Spooner said. "I was so bad at the beginning. I could barely stand up on my skates.

"In my head I was thinking I could never be a figure skater because I'm so big. Never did I thought I'd be lifted off my skates at the size that I am.

"Then doing it, it was 'OK maybe I'm wrong' and also in proving that to myself, I'm proving to lots of girls they can do it too."

The 30-year-old from Toronto was invited back to "Battle of the Blades" as a judge in 2020 to inject her lively personality into a show held without spectators because of COVID-19.

Spooner was a runner-up again in "Amazing Race Canada" in 2014.

She and Canadian hockey teammate Meaghan Mikkelson, who were coming off Olympic women's hockey gold in Sochi, Russia, won seven of 10 legs in the multi-day race in which participants navigate challenges while racing competitors around the world.

Spooner and Mikkelson finished second to Mickey Henry and Pete Schmalz.

"In hockey, you get to see our personalities, but not really because we're behind a cage and pretty focused at the time, but in those types of shows, you get to have fun," Spooner said.

"There are times when things are going to be funny and things are going to be messed up. You really show your true colours or what your personality is like.

"It's fun for people to get to know Meaghan and myself outside of our competitive hockey selves."

Given her comfort in front of the microphone and camera, Spooner is often tapped to be a voice and face of the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association (PWHPA) that is working toward a sustainable professional women's leagues.

In her decade on the Canadian team, Spooner has won Olympic gold (2014) and world championship gold (2012), as well as seven other international medals.

She's scored 58 goals and assisted on 41 others in 128 career games with the national team.

Spooner is Canada's points co-leader alongside Melodie Daoust at the women's world hockey championship in Calgary with two goals and three assists in three games.

Canada and the United States, both 3-0, meet Thursday to determine first place in Pool A. The quarterfinals are Saturday followed by Monday's semifinals and Tuesday's medal games.

Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin will not play Thursday. She needs more time to recover from taking a puck in the chest Tuesday, Hockey Canada national women's team director Gina Kingsbury said Wednesday.

Spooner's willingness to put herself in situations where she might fail before a live or television audience reflects a courage that serves her in hockey.

She's honing her role as a net-front presence in the offensive zone. It's a job she'd done on Canada's power play, but not a lot even-strength.

Spooner uses her five-foot-10 frame to both absorb and dish out punishment in the slot to create scoring lanes for teammates, and get her stick on shots for re-directions.

"Whatever the coaches need, that they feel is going to make the team successful, I'm willing to do," Spooner said. "I'm a big body and that was kind of a job they thought I was going to be good at.

"I've kind of embraced the position and I actually quite like it. I love practising tipping pucks . . . trying to hone it and make it a dominant position for me to be in."

She's among 29 players trying out for Canada's Olympic team headed to Beijing in February, which would make Spooner a three-time Olympian.

Spooner was married in July to Adam Redmond, a former major junior and university player from Edmonton who works in hockey as a biomechanist.

"If you asked us, we'd say we met at different places," Spooner said. "I say Calgary Stampede because that's where I remember meeting him, but he was a skills coach before so he would say he met me on the ice."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had the incorrect number of career goals and assists for Spooner.

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