As Natalie Spooner looks around the Team Canada dressing room, she sees a lot of familiar faces.
Nine of the 20 players named to the Canada’s roster for the IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship hail from Ontario and play in the province’s Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL).
“Hockey’s a big thing in Ontario,” said 17-year-old Spooner. “The PWHL looks at it as a big thing and improves players really well.”
Team Canada head coach Melody Davidson feels player development in Ontario is farther ahead than in other provinces.
“Their system is far more advanced,” she said. “They have their own minor hockey system, the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, while other provinces play young girls with young boys because they don’t have enough players for girls’ teams that young.”
The fact that Ontario won the 2007 National Women’s Under-18 Championship in November in their home province – their fourth consecutive national title – likely solidified spots on the team for many of the players.
The selection process began with evaluations of many of the players at the Canada Winter Games last February in Whitehorse, YT.
Davidson and assistant coaches Jim Fetter and Danielle Goyette – a two-time Olympic gold medalist – evaluated players at an off-ice fitness camp in May and invited many back to an Under-19 camp held in Calgary in July.
Twenty-one players were named to the National Women’s Under-18 Team for a three-game exhibition series against the USA in Ottawa in August – a series the Canadians swept – but evaluations continued through that series and the start of the club team season.
Fifteen members of the team that will hit the ice in Calgary were part of the national team for the summer series.
Final evaluations were conducted at the national championship in November, trimming the team roster down to 20.
Spooner leads her PWHL team, the Durham West Lightning, in scoring with 14 goals and 23 points in 14 games.
Many of the top 15 scorers in the league were selected to wear the maple leaf. The league’s leading scorer, Carolyne Prevost, has potted 17 goals and 31 points in just 18 games. The top 15 also include Brianne Jenner, who is second in league scoring with 30 points in 18 games, Laura McIntosh, Jessica Jones and Spooner, who ranks in at 13th.
Other Ontario natives to don the Canadian sweater are goaltender Amanda Mazzotta, Tara Watchorn, Laura Fortino and Catherine White. Another PWHL player, Brittany Haverstock, who calls Nova Scotia home, is also on the team.
“(The players) are here because they’re all strong,” said Davidson after the team’s first practice together on Jan. 3. “It’s going to be up to them to work together to develop chemistry.”
The team will face off against the Czech Republic on January 7th to start the tournament.
“There’s a great bunch of girls,” Spooner said of those sporting the red and white. “We all have hard work ethics and we give it our all every single practice and every single game.”
With Davidson behind the bench, there aren’t really many other options. Described as intense and demanding, Davidson credits her success to having good players.
“I expect them to play with intensity every shift,” Davidson said. “They need to own the puck.”
As for the expectations of this Ontario-dominated national team, Spooner is aiming high.
“If we get the puck to the net, the goals are going to go in,” she said. “I believe we have a good chance of winning if we all do what we can do and bring our best to the table.”