Named to the national women’s ice sledge hockey team at just 14 years of age, Mackenzie Spong of the London Blizzard becomes its youngest member. The number represents a pleasant coincidence as Hayley Wickenheiser was only 14 when she was first involved with the Canadian national women’s stand-up team.
Hailing from London, Ontario, Spong is part of an amazing ice sledge hockey presence that stretches into other parts of Southwestern Ontario, including Brantford, Chatham, Sarnia and Windsor. First introduced to the sport via the suggestion of an educator, she would spend several seasons with the London Blizzard,
“One of my teachers at school, an educational assistant introduced me to the sport. I played with the London Blizzard and one girl I looked up to on the team was Claire Smith.”
As the 2015 national team training camp in the Ottawa suburb of Stittsville, Ontario represented Spong’s first brush with the team, the experience was also shared by her mother Krista, who was on-hand. For Spong, the presence of her mother made the transition to such a higher level of the game much more enjoyable,
“She supports me, allows me to have confidence and takes me to my tournaments.”
Being on-hand to witness such a milestone in her young daughter’s career, Krista was exceptionally proud. In addition, she graciously acknowledged how the older players on the team were a great source of confidence in Spong’s flourishing career,
“Considering she is the youngest player (at the training camp), it is a huge honor for her to try out. She is playing with sled hockey players that have been in the game longer than she has. They give her confidence and the ability to improve her game.”
Another aspect of the camp that made for a highly enjoyable event was the chance to compete in the intrasquad game. With the players at the camp divided into Team Red and Team White, Spong was able to grace the ice with many players that she looked up to. Named to Team White, it provided a remarkable opportunity to cultivate her own skills, while appreciating the talents among the squad’s elites,
“When you get on the ice with the whole team, you see that some of them are really good. I look up to all of them. I was not nervous about being on the ice with them as I wanted to try it. My speed is probably the best part of my game.”
Among the players at the training camp, one player that has proven to be highly influential was goaltender Jessie Gregory. A multi-sport athlete who also participated in the 2015 Pan Am Games Torch Relay, Gregory is an ambassador for the sport. Having also had the opportunity to call Spong a teammate in other levels of play, she has been like an older sister to her,
“Jessie was one of the ones that introduced me to the team. I met her at the Western Region Ontario Para Sport Games. We were on the same team for two years. It was fun to play with her at the camp, but it was also fun to play with girls that I do not really know.”
While Spong has a lifetime of great sporting achievements to look forward to, there is no question that being able to share the ice with Canada’s greatest is certainly a cherished moment. Although Spong is very mature, recognizing that some facets of her game can be stronger, she holds the potential to fantastically follow in the footsteps of those who laid the foundation of this game,
“This is probably the highlight of my career. The girls here are very talented. It is a challenge but allows me to work harder. It has also helped me out with my shooting. It is a lot different than what I am used to. Just like my regular club, this was fun.”
Coincidentally, Spong’s first exposure to the national team came during the IPC Women’s Worlds in Brampton. Similar to the inaugural IIHF Women’s Worlds that took place in 1990 in Ottawa, the Brampton event may prove to be the springboard for other young girls to take up the sport. For Spong, who was playing elsewhere in the arena, the event opened her eyes to a much larger aspect of the game.
“I did not really know about the Women’s National Team before then. I was playing with my own club at that arena in another event.”
Now, Spong will know the privilege of donning the Maple Leaf on her jersey. As the upcoming season looms ahead, the future is now for Spong as she gets the chance to grace the ice for the national team. A hard-earned dream come true for her, it may also propel her into the category of role model for young fans.
“Making this team is a dream. It can help me get better at my own game.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from Facebook