Q&A: Natalie Spooner, the Olympic hockey player who’s determined to extend Canada’s winning streak
In 2014, Scarborough native Natalie Spooner was part of the squad that extended Canada’s Olympic women’s hockey dominance, with a fourth straight gold-medal win. Now in her second Olympics, the 27-year-old will be looking to make it five. Before the games, we asked her about the perks of being a gold medallist, her ideal backup career, and her amazing flub on The Amazing Race.
Canada has won almost every Olympic women’s hockey competition that has ever been held. Are you feeling some pressure to keep up that streak?
I think if you’re a Canadian hockey player you’re expected to bring back the gold medal, so there’s definitely pressure. As a team, we learn to embrace that and run with it. We want the gold medal as much as the rest of the country.
I’ve heard that the Olympic village is almost a university-like environment. Who are the cool kids?
I don’t know. Last time, four years ago, I saw mostly Canadian athletes. We’re competing the whole time, so it’s not like we do our event and then have a bunch of time to hang out with people or go to see other events. The NHL guys were super cool to hang out with. Getting to meet the curlers, that was super cool.
What’s your relationship like with the NHL guys? Is there a rivalry?
No, definitely not a rivalry. It’s a very supportive relationship.
You already have a gold medal from Sochi. What’s the best perk of being a gold medallist?
It’s not like I carry it around anywhere. I like just feeling like I accomplished a goal that I had been working towards forever. And I’ve gotten to do super-cool things because of being a hockey player and winning a gold medal. I got to go to the Juno Awards and play in the Juno Cup. I got to go to Nunavut and deliver hockey equipment to kids up there with Project North.
One of the things that happened to you after you won the gold medal is that you were on The Amazing Race Canada. At one point there was a hockey challenge where you and your teammate, Meaghan Mikkelson, who is also a hockey player, had to shoot pucks at some targets, and it ended up taking you more than 50 tries. What happened?
We get quite a lot of comments on that. I mean, it was definitely a weird challenge. We were using wooden sticks that were probably from 1960s. We hit the first four targets no problem, and then the other teams started showing up. We did actually finish around the same time as the other teams, but the way they cut it does make it seem a little bit farther apart.
Do you have any techniques for keeping mental focus during games?
There are a lot of distractions at the Olympics. It’s a high-pressure situation. But we’ve played so many hockey games—thousands and thousands of hockey games—so I think coming into this gold medal game, or whatever game it is, you have to just think of it as another hockey game. I’m prepared. I’ve trained hard. I’m ready for this.
If you could be as good at something else as you are at hockey, what would that thing be?
I would love to be a pop star. Like, a singer. If I could be as good a singer as I was a hockey player, I would be really happy.
What type of pop star would you be?
Probably like Taylor Swift.
Is there any particular music that you like to listen to before games?
I normally just listen to whatever the team’s listening to. But there’s one song that I always listen to, called “Unstoppable,” by Kat DeLuna. It just kinda gets me pumped up. Other than that, I’m pretty easy. I like all types of music.
Do you have any current TV obsessions?
I just finished watching Manhunt: Unabomber on Netflix. It was really good. Other than that, I’m watching This is Us, The Good Doctor, and then I’ve watched a little bit of The Bachelor. The drama’s sometimes a little over the top.
Do you have a breakfast of champions?
In the morning I’ll eat anything from cereal to pancakes to eggs. And then pregame I’ll eat chicken, veggies, rice, salad. I try not to be too routine. Because once we get to Korea, who knows what I’m going to be eating?
Is there anything you’re hoping to do during your downtime in Korea?
Hopefully I’ll get to travel around Seoul and get up to the mountain village to watch some of the mountain sports. I’d love to see the bobsled, or some of the extreme skiing or snowboarding sports.
Is there anything you’re looking forward to doing once the games are over?
Ooooo. Having a few days off. Sleeping. I don’t know. I guess just moving back to Toronto, getting settled back in and having some downtime. A little vacation, maybe.
What’s the most annoying question that athletes always get asked by reporters?
Sometimes, if there are reporters who don’t know a lot about female hockey, then those could be annoying questions. Like, “Is there hitting in your hockey?” I got asked once if we use lighter pucks. I won’t tell you who asked me that. It was someone very famous—and a hockey player, too.
Was he trying to be funny?
I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.