When Canada forward Natalie Spooner gave birth to son Rory in December, she had the world championship circled on her calendar.
And four weeks after Rory came into the world, Spooner was back training on the ice. Before long, she was playing in Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association games.
On Wednesday, Spooner not only suited up for Team Canada at worlds, but she scored the game’s opening goal and added an assist in a 4-0 victory over Switzerland at the CAA Centre in Brampton, Ont.
After killing three consecutive first-period penalties, Canada was back attacking in the Swiss zone when an opposing defender turned the puck over, landing fortuitously on Spooner’s stick in the slot. The 32-year-old native of Scarborough, Ont., made no faults in burying the icebreaker.
Spooner stated she blacked out when the puck found twine.
“Oh my gosh, did it really go in? I was like ‘Whoa!,'” Spooner recalled after the game. “Obviously I came into this tournament just hoping to make an impact and help my team and to get that first one was pretty special.”
Sarah Nurse and Rebecca Johnston added power-plays goals and Sarah Fillier closed the scoring in the third for Canada, which entered the tournament as the two-time defending world champion and reigning Olympic gold medalist.
Ann-Renée Desbiens made 11 saves to record the shutout. Her biggest stops came in the first period, first with Canada killing a five-on-three to keep the game tied and then later in the frame when she stonewalled Switzerland’s Alina Marti on a breakaway.
Earlier in the day, Finland (1-0) destroyed France (0-1) 14-1 while the U.S. (1-0) allowed the opener to Japan (0-1) but rebounded for a 7-1 triumph.
Rory, who turns four months old on Thursday, has been around the team throughout the lead-up to worlds. Nurse said he was strapped to Spooner’s chest during the pre-game meal, and head coach Troy Ryan said it’s been fun having him around.
“It’s pretty amazing how supportive my teammates and Hockey Canada have been of this whole thing and obviously it’s a lot for me to juggle but he’s got so many aunties around that they hold him at meals and make sure he’s happy so I can eat,” Spooner said.
“My mom is also here helping so it’s been great and he’s been pretty happy around the girls.”
Spooner only skipped eight weeks of hockey in total for her pregnancy — four before and four after.
Though she was well-aware of her goals, she also knew there were potential complications that could delay her timeline. She wound up playing six PWHPA Dream Gap Tour matches ahead of worlds.
“When I finally got to get back on, I was like, ‘Wow, I feel like myself again.’ Like I really missed this stuff. That was awesome,” Spooner told CBC Sports in late March.
“And then just getting back with the girls, just missed that and having all that fun and even like the thrill of big games, even when I was playing in the [PWHPA] it was just like OK, I missed this feeling.”
Johnston, who played alongside Spooner on the PWHPA’s Team Scotiabank, said she was “so happy” for her teammate.
“Obviously it’s not easy for her to come back from a baby but she’s really putting the time in and really diligent in coming back,” Johnston said.
Spooner, of course, isn’t new to top-level international hockey. She’s a three-time Olympian and two-time gold medallist. At Beijing 2022, she was Canada’s third-leading scorer with three goals and 11 points.
She stated she relied on that experience to inform her preparation process for this tournament.
“It’s definitely a little bit of a different process that I’ve gone through, but at the same time, I just kind of followed my rehab and all the amazing people that I have that I was able to work with to get back this quick,” she said.
Still, she was unsure she’d be able to reach her previous heights. She’d scored 66 goals for Canada entering these worlds.
“I have no clue what role I’m going to have on the team or what it’s going to look like,” she said in March. “But I’m just going to do whatever I can for the team.”
Now, that goal total is at 67 — and one as a mom.