Like so many Canadian hockey stories, this one starts on a backyard rink. Four kids, separated by 11 years but brought together by a shared love of the game, hit the ice before school, after school, whenever a free moment allows.
It was on that rink, in the backyard of Peter and Ann-Marie Spooner’s home in Scarborough, Ont., where a future Olympic gold medallist first left her mark.
“I’ve got a spot right in the middle of my forehead that Natalie left me with,” Doug Spooner says about his sister. “She came up a little high with the stick.”
“I guess we were pretty competitive,” Natalie says about her three older brothers. “I think I was the one normally hurting them, by accident.”
Doug and Natalie fall second and fourth in line among their siblings. As they got older, they – along with brothers Rick and Ian – took over building the rink from their dad and making sure it was always playable, day or night.
“The Christmas lights didn’t get to go on the front of the house anymore,” says Doug. “They got put around the fence in the backyard and that’s what kept the rink lit.”
Once other kids in the neighbourhood realized the ice was in at the Spooners’, they’d be over too. “If there wasn’t enough people around [for a game], my dad, who didn’t play hockey, was inventing drills and trying to figure out how to do some skill development from what he could glean from watching TV,” says Doug.
Last Christmas, at Rick’s home in Seattle, was the first time in a long time that all four siblings shared the same ice. “We’re not going to get all together this year because I won’t be out there,” says Doug. “I’ll be at the Air Canada Centre.”
Doug is the venue operations lead in Toronto for the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. He – and his team of eight volunteers – will oversee everything being shipped and received into the venue, and that spaces are set up properly for the teams.
This isn’t the first time he’s has helped Toronto put on a large international sporting event. He worked at the 2015 Pan Am Games, but volunteering for the World Juniors is something entirely different.
“It’s the best tournament in the world,” says Doug, whose day job is as an advisor for Metrolinx. “It happens at the best time of year, people are together. My memories of watching it are with my family in my parents’ living room. And then also thinking about the opportunities my sister has had and winning that gold medal in Russia and just how excited we were as a family. Knowing that someone is going to win this World Juniors here and get to go give their mom a hug, and that I can do whatever I can to help volunteer and make sure that that happens and the tournament runs smooth, I think that’s what that’s what I’m excited about.”
Growing up, once Boxing Day came the Christmas gear was put away and the hockey jerseys were pulled out. But with multiple siblings soon playing university hockey and life taking others elsewhere, viewing habits change.
Doug played with the University of Waterloo Warriors. The former captain and CIS Academic All-Canadian sits 12th on the school’s all-time scoring list.
One holiday the team travelled to Switzerland to play; “I was calling back home saying, ‘I can’t get the [World Juniors] scores, who’s winning?’”
Another year Rick, living in the U.S., couldn’t see the games; Doug flipped his computer around so its camera was facing the TV and Rick could watch along with everyone else.
Eventually a new holiday tradition was born. The Nations Cup is an annual tournament played in Germany the first week of the New Year. Natalie played it three times, 2009-2011, with Canada’s National Women’s Development Team when it was known as the MLP Cup.
“I started leaving right after Christmas,” says Natalie, “so my brothers then followed me at the MLP Cup. We’d get to watch a few World Juniors games on the road. The other times we’d check up on the scores. It was in our [team] newsletter every day.”
The year Doug was in Switzerland with Waterloo, he, Ian and their parents jumped over to Ravensberg to watch a few of Natalie’s games.
This year the family will start the holidays spread out across the continent. However, as it’s done so often in the past, the World Juniors will eventually bring them together.
“I’ll have some family at the rink,” says Doug. “I won’t get to spend as much time as I normally would with them, and we won’t be in the living room, but we’ll actually be in the rink together.”