Natalie Spooner makes Canada roster for hockey worlds, 3 months after childbirth

Natalie Spooner

Natalie Spooner, a three-time Olympic medalist forward, made Canada’s hockey roster for next month’s world championship, three months after childbirth.

Spooner, 32, had son Rory on Dec. 6. She was named to Canada’s 23-player team for worlds, which it hosts in Brampton, on Thursday.

“People think this type of comeback is impossible,” Spooner said in a video posted on her social media. “I want to show you how important it is to chase what you love, how important it is to try. So mommy’s going to try because she thinks impossible is a super silly idea.”

Spooner, who made her national team debut in 2008, is the not the first player to return to the national team from childbirth.

Notably, defender Meaghan Mikkelson, a three-time Olympian and Spooner’s partner on “The Amazing Race Canada” in 2014, came back from 2015 childbirth to make world championship teams in 2016 and 2017 and the 2018 Olympic team. She returned from 2019 childbirth to make the 2022 World Championship team.

The Canadian roster for April’s worlds includes all of its biggest names from last year’s Olympic champion team: MVP Brianne Jenner and fellow all-tournament players Marie-Philip PoulinSarah Nurse and Claire Thompson, plus No. 1 goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens.

Not on the team: Mélodie Daoust, the MVP of the 2018 Olympics and 2021 World Championship who also wasn’t on the team for last summer’s worlds or a recent seven-game exhibition series against the U.S.

The U.S. roster for worlds has not been released, but it will not include stalwart forwards Kendall Coyne Schofield (pregnant) and Brianna Decker (retired).

Canada won the last three major international tournaments — worlds in 2021 and 2022 and Olympics in 2022 — its first win streak since 2004.

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Brianna Decker retires from hockey

Brianna Decker

Brianna Decker, a star forward on the 2018 U.S. Olympic champion hockey team and a three-time Olympic medalist, retired from the sport at age 31.

She set a new goal to return to the Olympics in a different capacity.

In her final career game, Decker suffered a broken left fibula and torn ankle ligaments less than 10 minutes into last year’s Olympic opener against Finland. Decker stayed with the team through its silver-medal run.

She wanted to take a full year to recover and see where she was at before deciding whether to continue playing. A turning point came in August, when she was named girls prep associate head coach and special advisor to the Shattuck-St. Mary’s hockey program in Faribault, Minnesota, where she played in high school.

Top U.S. national teamers often coach in between playing — and Decker previously did so with U.S. women’s U18 teams — but she also used the early days of this ongoing stint to see if coaching without playing was still fulfilling her passion for the sport.

“It was,” she said, “and I felt like it was a good time for me to decide to retire [and focus on coaching].”

Decker, a Wisconsin native, made her senior national team debut at the 2008 Four Nations Cup at age 17. In 2009, after her senior year of high school, she was third-youngest of the 41 players who essentially tried out for the 2010 Olympic team, but she did not make the cut.

She matriculated at the University of Wisconsin, won a national title in 2011 (which she ranks right up with her top national team memories) and in 2012 won the Patty Kazmaier Award as the NCAA’s top player.

Decker played in her first of eight consecutive world championships in 2011, including winning tournament MVP in 2017.

She then made her first Olympic team in 2014. Decker co-led the U.S. with six points in Sochi en route to a silver medal.

She was an alternate captain on the 2018 team that won the U.S.’ first Olympic hockey title since women’s hockey’s debut at the 1998 Nagano Games. A tenacious, 5-foot-4 forward, she played on the top line with Hilary Knight and Kendall Coyne Schofield.

After coming back from double groin and double sports hernia surgery in October 2019, she was the third-oldest player on the 2022 Olympic roster behind Knight and Megan Bozek. She was on the second line of forwards with Amanda Kessel and Alex Carpenter.

In the late 2010s, the U.S. won five consecutive global championships (one Olympics, four worlds) to become a dynasty for the first time. A trademark, maybe the trademark of those teams was their fast, skillful attackers, personified by Decker.

“When it came to game time, it was incredible,” she said. “The one thing that goes unrecognized a little bit — you’re competing against those players every day of practice. So you’re competing against some of the best players in the world every single day, and that’s how you excel your game. So I thank them for training so hard to make our team better as well.”

Decker, third on the U.S. career points list in world championship play behind Knight and Cammi Granato, said she brings her playing mentality to her coaching.

“I’m pretty intense,” she said. “When we’re inside the rink, it’s all business for me. I want to get the most out of the players, and I obviously want them to take advantage of every training session that they have. But from an off-ice standpoint, I obviously goof around with them and have fun and make them realize that it’s all about balance.”

When Decker told family members that she was hanging up her skates, one of her three brothers texted to tell her it was time to repeat her playing accomplishments as a coach.

“We’ll see if I can mark off those things,” Decker said. “My list starts now.”

A goal is to coach an Olympic team. Women’s hockey has been contested at seven Winter Games. The U.S. has never had a former women’s national team player as Olympic head coach, and just once had a female head coach (Katey Stone, 2014).

“Right now I’m in the best spot I can be,” said Decker, whose duties at the boarding school include doing laundry and aiding with equipment. “I have a great mentor, [girls hockey director] Gordie Stafford at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, so I’m in a good spot to start my coaching career.”

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U.S. hockey captain Kendall Coyne Schofield is pregnant, plans return to national team

Kendall Coyne Schofield

Kendall Coyne Schofield, the U.S. hockey captain at last year’s Olympics and world championship, announced she is pregnant and due with her first child this summer.

“She has plans to return to the national team when the time is right,” a representative said.

Coyne Schofield, 30 and a three-time Olympic medalist, will presumably miss the world championship in April in Canada, where the U.S. will look to win a global tournament for the first time since the 2019 Worlds. Canada is the reigning Olympic champion and two-time reigning world champion.

Coyne Schofield is married to Chicago Bears offensive lineman Michael Schofield.

Other U.S. hockey stars have come back from childbirth to play for the national team, including fellow 2018 Olympic champions Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, plus Jenny Potter, who played through the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Olympics as a mom, including the 2007 Worlds less than three months after childbirth.

Coyne Schofield is the latest U.S. Winter Olympic star to announce a pregnancy.

Teammate Alex Cavallini, the No. 1 U.S. goalie at last year’s Olympics, had a daughter on Christmas. Cavallini planned to return to the national team after childbirth, her agent said when she announced her pregnancy in August.

Elana Meyers Taylor, the most decorated U.S. Olympic bobsledder in history with medals in all five of her Olympic events, announced in November that she had her second son, Noah.

Meyers Taylor, 38, said before announcing her pregnancy that she hoped to return to competition but didn’t know whether she would make a 2026 Winter Games bid.

Jamie Anderson, a two-time Olympic champion in snowboard slopestyle, is due with her first child. Anderson, 32, plans to return to competition in late 2023 and try for one more Olympics, a fourth for her, in 2026, according to People.

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