CWHL All-Star Game 'inspires' next generation | CWHL

This article was originally written for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

by Tieja MacLaughlin

Riley MacKenzie sat rink side at the Air Canada Centre on a Saturday afternoon in December, wearing her Toronto Leaside Wildcats jersey, while taking in the very first CWHL All-Star Game.

Joined by her teammates in a sea of red and white Toronto Leaside colours, a starry-eyed MacKenzie looked on as No. 24 on Team White headed to the dressing room.

“It was awesome when Spooner scored that goal and went top shelf,” she said with an unmistakable excitement in her voice.

The Wildcats are one of the largest female hockey associations in Ontario and Toronto area native Natalie Spooner, who hails from Scarborough specifically, is of course MacKenzie’s favourite player.

“I really like hockey because I watched my brother play when I was younger, and I was basically in the rink every day,” she explained.

In their first team outing of the season, the Wildcats watched the best players in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League take part in its inaugural all-star showcase.

“I think the girls are really inspired being here,” said Jenna McEachern, assistant coach of the Wildcats. “They find it amazing how fast these women are, and the intensity and level of their game. They can actually see some of the things that we’ve been working on too – like going to the net, or getting a rebound.”

The girls were most eager to line up alongside the player’s tunnel and share in a glove tap before the start of the period.

As the puck dropped on the third, MacKenzie began recounting stories from the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia – most memorably the women’s gold medal overtime decision between Canada and the U.S.– before she was cut short and the arena erupted in cheers.

Team Red tied the game.

The youngster and her teammates didn’t seem to take much notice though, pausing only for a moment before recognizing the opposing team.

“We’re cheering for Team White,” she said, definitively. “The hometown team.”

The same team represented by her favourite winger from the Toronto Furies.

“When I was growing up I looked up to women like Cassie Campbell and Jennifer Botterill,” Spooner, who had a goal and an assistant before being named second star, said after the game. “And now to kind of be someone like that, it’s pretty cool.”

Spooner shares a mutual excitement with her younger counterpart when asked about her influence on the next generation of female hockey players.

“I never thought I was going to be here,” she said. “But hard work pays off. I want these girls to keep dreaming that they can be here one day too, playing in the CWHL or in the Olympics. Just stay strong and keep working hard.”

For MacKenzie, following in Spooner’s footsteps would be nothing short of a dream come true.

“That would be really, really cool.”

Tieja MacLaughlin