By Mark Staffieri
As the 2012 CWHL Draft continues to emerge as the greatest draft in the nascent history of the CWHL, two players bring with them a remarkable friendship. Natalie Spooner and Laura McIntosh represent what is great about women?۪s hockey. Over a five year span, their great talents were complemented by making each other better as they developed superlative careers.
During those five fantastic years, their careers were symbiotic. Their first experience as teammates came with Team Ontario at the 2007 Canada Winter Games. The roster also featured other future 2012 CWHL Draft Picks, such as Rebecca Johnston, Jennifer Wakefield and Catherine White. Quite possibly the greatest team in the history of the CWG, Spooner and McIntosh claimed a gold medal with an undefeated Ontario squad.
A year later, the two would find themselves teammates once again. In the inaugural IIHF Under-18 Women?۪s Hockey Championships (contested in 2008), Spooner and McIntosh were members of Team Canada. Of note, Bailey Bram (a future 2012 CWHL Draft Pick who would play with McIntosh in Brampton) was also on that historic team. While they could not duplicate their gold medal success, this budding dynamic duo earned a silver medal. Of note, they would also attend the Canadian Under-22 evaluation camp in summer 2011.
The autumn of 2008 would find their paths cross once again as both committed to play for the legendary Jackie Barto at Ohio State University. In their first season, Spooner would score 21 goals in 30 games played, while McIntosh logged 39 points (11 goals, 28 assists) in 36 games played. Over four seasons, the two would help the Buckeyes win 55 games.
While the two helped to re-write the Buckeyes record books, their final season (2011-12) should have been renamed The Spooner and Laura Mac Show. There was an inevitable sense of energy whenever the two seniors took to the ice in that season as fans knew that any contest had the potential to be historic. Spooner ended her Buckeyes career with 100 career goals, while McIntosh logged an impressive 123 career assists. ???Throughout the 4 years at Ohio State, I learned so much from her on and off the ice and we have always pushed each other to get better so I am always proud of her when she does well! She has accomplished so much with her hockey career and hopefully this is just the beginning for her,? mentioned McIntosh.
After such a remarkable career with the Buckeyes, it would have been all too easy to believe that the two would be drafted by the same franchise in the CWHL. In a remarkable twist of fate, the intertwining of their careers came to an end. Spooner was claimed seventh overall by the Toronto Furies, while McIntosh was thirteenth overall by the Brampton hockey club. Despite not being selected as teammates, the mutual respect between the two truly helped to define the values of respect and sportsmanship in the CWHL. ???Spoons and I are no longer teammates but we spent 4 years together on the same team, so I am always going to think of her as a teammate. I have so much respect for her and her accomplishments and I think she would say the same about me,? said McIntosh.
Their first CWHL games came against each other as Brampton and Toronto opened the season against each other. Ironically, Spooner?۪s first CWHL hat trick came in that series. ???Once the puck dropped, I did not think too much about the other team. Just how to help my team, but it was great to get a hat trick in my first series, which happened to be against Brampton and Laura.?
Playing against a long time friend like Laura, there was high energy in her first CWHL game. ???I was super excited to play in my first CWHL game, but knew Laura was on the other team. Having played with her for so many years, I knew what she can do on the ice. It was different having her on the other team instead of mine, and she had some nice chirps for me.?
Spooner would also participate in the first CWHL game at Air Canada Centre. ???I was happy when I heard that Spoons was playing at the Air Canada Centre. It was a great opportunity for her and also for the CWHL and I am glad she got to be a part of it. I actually went to the game and she played well as she always does!? proclaimed McIntosh.
At the end of November, McIntosh stood in the top five in the CWHL scoring race. With Brampton, she has had the opportunity to learn from living legends such as Lori Dupuis, Jayna Hefford and third generation star Gillian Apps. While both continue to master their trade at the CWHL level, there is no question that the two comprise building blocks in the league?۪s exciting future.