When the Penguins hosted the PWHL in the Steel City game at PPG Paints Arena earlier this month, Natalie Spooner’s husband Adam Redmond and their infant son Rory came down from Toronto for the contest. Rory was born on Dec. 6, 2022 – which means he’s been along for the entire ride of this inaugural season of professional women’s hockey.

“It’s been so cool,” Natalie said before adding with a laugh, “I mean, Rory probably won't remember this, but I hope he gets to see the pictures and realize how cool it is… and that he's going to grow up not knowing the difference if there wasn't women's pro hockey, he's going to get to see it his whole life. So, it's pretty special.”

Spooner, who plays for PWHL Toronto, has been a standout in the first year of the new league. She entered the PWHL’s break for the IIHF Women’s World Championship – where Spooner will represent Team Canada – with 15 goals in just 19 games, which ranks first by a wide margin. The 33-year-old forward also leads the PWHL in points with 20.

“Her scoring ability is pretty crazy,” said teammate Maggie Connors. “I think anytime she gets the puck, seeing how strong she is on her stick and how she’s able to carry it to the net and finish every time, it's pretty amazing. We always joke with her every time she touches it, like watch this, it's gonna go in the net.”

Spooner, who’s got size at 5-foot-10, said that PWHL Toronto head coach Troy Ryan has always told her to be a hard power forward, an approach that has worked in this league.

“I’ve been able to kind of create around the net and get in some dirty ones, get in some nice ones, kind of a mix and mash,” said Spooner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Canada. “And yeah, it's kind of been working. So, just kind of sticking to that, and if not – trying to find my teammates and make some nice passes.”

Her success is impressive in itself, but factoring in that Spooner became a mother for the first time just over a year before PWHL Toronto played its first-ever game on Jan. 1 is “truly remarkable,” as Connors put it. “You watch how she carries herself, you watch how she is a professional athlete and a mom at the same time, and it's very inspirational for someone like me to watch.”

Spooner said there’s been a lot of unknowns, particularly with childbirth, and “you just hope for the best,” she said. After a healthy Rory came into the world, Spooner began skating a month after giving birth. Four months later, she played her first games with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and five months later, Spooner was playing for Team Canada at the 2023 IIHF Women’s World Championship and won a silver medal.

“There were a lot of challenges, but at the same time, you kind of feel like, oh, I feel more normal, this is how I’m supposed to feel. But then the next month, you’re like wow, I really didn't feel normal. Then the next month, you’re like, wow, I really, really didn't feel normal,” she said with a laugh.

“But you just kind of go with it and take a day at a time, really. I had lots of support. My mom, my husband… so I was really lucky in that sense that I was able to make it all work. A lot of planning, a lot of balancing everything, but just kind of take it a day at a time.”

PWHL Toronto defenseman Renata Fast has known Spooner for a long time, as they were teammates with the Toronto Furies of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, and have played together on many Hockey Canada rosters as well.

To her, nothing has changed when it comes to Natalie’s love for the game that’s helping her thrive in a league that the veteran forward fought passionately for over the years.

“I feel like she's come back and like she's dealt with a lot of adversity, but she's just come back and been herself,” Fast said. “She's always the life of the locker room. She's always so positive on the ice and her play has just been getting better, honestly.”

“I think we also forget that she's been doing this for her whole career,” Connors added. “Especially now, she's kind of the heartbeat of our team, we go as she goes, and she's able to kind of pick us up when we're down, and especially with the offense. So obviously, she's been amazing, and it's been remarkable to see kind of her return from having Rory.”