TORONTO — Natalie Spooner isn’t in charge of the CWHL All-Star Game draft, but for a moment, let’s just pretend she is.
The Toronto Furies’ star right-winger is sitting in a boardroom at Sportsnet’s headquarters in downtown Toronto, and she’s a little tired since her team practiced from 9:15–11 p.m. last night and then she had to turn up here at 7 a.m. for interviews.
Spooner has been doing the media circuit, because on Sunday, the two-time Olympic medallist (one gold, one silver) will be one of 34 players lacing it up in the CWHL All-Star Game, set for 1:30 p.m. at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.
“My dream line,” Spooner says, considering who she’d like to play with on Sunday. “OK, I’m a right-winger, so I would pick Marie-Philip Poulin at centre,” a selection that requires no explanation, she adds, because “she’s just that good.” (Poulin authored the game-winners the last two times Canada won Olympic gold, in 2010 and 2014).
She goes with Furies teammate Sarah Nurse on the left wing, since “we already have that chemistry.” Her picks for the point are American Kacey Bellamy, because she’s “fast, aggressive and she also likes to jump up in the play,” and Canadian Erin Ambrose, since she’s “more stay-at-home and makes great passes,” Spooner says.
In net, she’s going with Finland’s Noora Raty, because she’s never played in front of Raty before. “That would be pretty cool to have a Finnish goalie and see what she’d be like, screaming at you when you’re coming back, if it would be Finnish or English,” she says. “Plus, she’s really good.
“That would be a great line,” Spooner decides.
It would, but the purple and gold teams will actually be selected on Saturday night, during a draft, and she’ll have zero say in that.
Still, this being Spooner’s fourth All-Star Game (her mom thinks it’s her fifth, but she doesn’t agree), Spooner knows a lot about what goes into this weekend. That’s why we asked her to pick out five things to help preview Sunday’s game.
We’ll let Spooner take it away:
1. “Things to watch for,” she says. “First of all: 20 Olympians! Twenty Olympians on the ice at the same time, from Canada, U.S. and Finland.”
How much Olympic hardware do these players own, as a group?
“Oh boy,” Spooner says. “Between us all, that’s gonna be a lot. I would say 50 medals.”
She made that up, though.
“OK, 40,” she says, laughing. “Forty is more realistic.”
2. “Another thing to look out for: The Barenaked Ladies singing — they’re singing the national anthem, before the game.” Spooner’s sure they’ll stick around and watch. “They’re huge supporters of hockey,” she says.
Her favourite Barenaked Ladies tune? Spooner breaks into song here: “If I had a million dollars, if I had a million dollars,” she sings. “Oh my gosh, I was thinking, am I really going to sing this right now?” she laughs.
She did, indeed.
3. Number three: “The special guests that will be coaching.” There are a couple former NHLers, a comedian and a former Olympic speed skater. “We have Gerry Dee, Glenn Healy, Curtis Joseph and Anastasia Bucsis.
“And,” she points out, “you could watch out for a lot of chirps from Gerry Dee.”
The comedian has already dealt out a few chirps, notably in a video he posted to Twitter that “blew up,” Spooner says.
Spooner found it hilarious, but it drew a fair bit of criticism from the hockey world because Gerry Dee said some of the choices didn’t “make sense” to him, and he joked that the players chosen were no-names.
“If you don’t realize that he knows us, you would probably take offence to it,” Spooner says. “But as soon as you realize the players know him and he knows us, then it’s funny. So funny.”
4. Number four is a no-brainer: “Great goals. You know, because there’s so much skill. I feel like there might not be that much defence played in this game, but there’s gonna be really nice goals.”
She thinks about who has “dirty hands” and might come up with the sweetest goal of all.
“I could see Jill Saulnier scoring a nice one,” Spooner says of her fellow Team Canada teammate. “But literally in this game, anyone could score a nice goal. It’s not like who can, it’s who’s gonna get the chance.”
5. And finally, you can watch 20 Olympians and some of the best players on the planet pretty easily.
“The game is on Sportsnet,” Spooner says, for those who might not be in the Toronto area. For those who are in the neighbourhood: “Tickets are only $20,” Spooner points out, and there’s a two-for-one promotion available through @HockeyStickCo.
Only 2 days left to get your 2-for-1 tickets to the @TheCWHL All-Star Game!
This is a chance to see some of the world's best athletes compete. And an opportunity to support women in sport.
— Hockeystick (@hockeystickco) January 18, 2019
Before she heads out for a couple other interviews and a photo shoot, the soon-to-be four-time All-Star adds: “This is a game you should watch.”