Mikkelson and Spooner want to grow CWHL

Meaghan Mikkelson and Natalie Spooner are two of Canada’s premier women’s hockey players, whether you know them from their Olympic gold or their experience on the Amazing Race Canada. They’re touring the Prairies to get people talking about the Canadian Women’s Hockey League with the Prairie Toyota Clarkson Cup Tour, bringing the CWHL’s top prize to prairie towns.

Mikkelson says that it has been about getting to places where they might not have the chance to visit during the hockey season, and meeting people where they might not otherwise have the chance.

“It depends on the day and where we’re located, but it’s been great to get out to the smaller communities, ones where we don’t have a chance to visit when we’re playing.”

Mikkelson grew up in Regina, and has family in Manitoba, so it’s been a chance to get back to her roots as well.

“Saskatchewan is a great hockey province.”

The league is relatively young, beginning in 2007. Mikkelson says that the league has been a long time coming, and has been growing every year since it began. Part of helping the league grow is just increasing its profile.

“A huge part of that is the awareness of it, and it’s not a league that everyone knows about right now. That’s one of the goals of this tour, to increase awareness of the league, and that’s something Natalie and I as players do, help grow the league as much as possible.”

While Canada has always had a strong Olympic program for women’s hockey, Mikkelson says that the CWHL is a way for players to develop and grow outside of that single event every four years.

“In non-Olympic years we still need to be developing and competing at the highest level possible. Outside of college, this is where most of us play, and without this league we wouldn’t have anywhere to play and we wouldn’t be able to continue to improve and develop as a team.”

Promoting the league goes beyond Mikkelson and Spooner, however, because it’s as much about the generation that is playing in the future as it is about the current players. That’s part of the reason the tour brought out a synthetic ice rink, to get kids the chance to be on the ice with premier hockey players, and Mikkelson says the league is now a goal for young girls getting into the sport.

“When I was growing up, and when Natalie was growing up, we didn’t have the CWHL to aspire to and play in. There was no professional women’s hockey league that we could set a goal to play in. Now there are little girls who can look at the CWHL and say ‘I want to win a Clarkson Cup one day.’ We didn’t have that, so that’s pretty special. Throughout this tour we’ve met little girls who pick up the cup and say they want to win this one day, and to look in their eyes is pretty special.”

Outside of hockey, Spooner and Mikkelson were also in the second season of the Amazing Race Canada, which they learned about three days after getting back from Sochi. Mikkelson says it was an unforgettable experience.

“It was incredible and a once in a lifetime experience that we are very thankful to have been part of. We have very fond memories and some not so fond memories but overall it was incredible.”

The back to back adventures for the duo were also a way to keep from having any sort of lull after the Olympics were over.

“When you come home from an Olympics... When you’re there it’s such a high and when you come home there’s a period where the excitement is still there, but you go from the peak of excitement and you come home and there’s a bit of a lull and a bit of a low. You hear Olympic athletes talking about that all the time, the post Olympic lull you go through. So it was nice to have the race to jump into, you miss that whole lull which was really nice.”

Between Olympic gold and the Amazing Race Canada, Mikkelson says that they believe 2014 was a good year for building awareness of women’s hockey. She says it was a chance to show their personalities beyond who they are as players.

“It gave people a look what’s behind the masks we play with, give a glimpse of our personality and show people what we’re all about.”

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