While the concept of voting for All-Star Captains and the subsequent team drafts has become a recent novelty in all sport, there is no question that the selections for the 2016 CWHL All-Star Game highly deserve such honor. Natalie Spooner, the league’s Player of the Month Award winner for December 2015, and Julie Chu are more than just ambassadors for the CWHL; they are a pair of hockey icons, adding another milestone to their exceptional careers.
Chu led all skaters with a whopping 34% of the vote, resulting in 11,319 votes, subsequently
becoming the first visible minority to serve as a captain in the CWHL All-Star Game. Spooner would garner an impressive 7,661 votes, culminating in 23% of all votes tallied.As the elected captains, the next task is to draft the rosters for Team Black, led by Chu, and Team White, represented by Spooner, on January 22, one day before the second All-Star Game takes place at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. As a side note, the inaugural NWHL All-Star Game shall be held on January 24 in Buffalo, New York, resulting in a remarkable weekend defined by a dazzling display of elite women’s hockey talent.
Although both Spooner and Chu were participants in the inaugural All-Star Game (also at the ACC), with Spooner suiting up for Team White, while Team Red’s roster welcomed Chu, the captaincy represents a first in their careers. They shall be joined by another All-Star who is experiencing her own historic first. Furies first-year player Sena Suzuki shall become the first international player to compete in the All-Star Game.
In the career of Spooner, historic firsts are a common theme. From being the first woman to compete on Canada’s U18, U22 and Senior Teams, she also became the first to win a Winter Games gold medal and the Clarkson Cup in the same season.
The All-Star Game captaincy not only makes her the first player in Toronto Furies franchise history (and first Ohio State women's hockey alum) to gain the honor, it follows up on another historical accomplishment. When the inaugural All-Star Game was hosted in December 2014, Spooner scored the first-ever goal. In leading up to the game (which shall be broadcast on Canadian TV network Sportsnet), Spooner filmed a promo on a Toronto rooftop with the famous CN Tower prominently in the background.
Julie Chu gains the distinction of becoming the first visible minority to serve as an All-Star Game captain. Compared to Spooner, she is not the first member of her club team to serve in the role of captaincy. In the inaugural game, teammate Charline Labonte served as the captain of Team Red, while Team White leader Jessica Campbell made history by becoming the first rookie in All-Star Game history.
In an unforgettable season that has seen Chu be part of the rebranding of the Montreal Stars into Les Canadiennes de Montreal (which sends a league-best nine players to the All-Star Game), she also gained the chance to be part of the unprecedented Women’s Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Having once competed for Boston’s prestigious Harvard Crimson, the chance to go back to a region that held so many of her glories represented one of the great milestones in her glorious CWHL career. In addition, she becomes the first Crimson alum to serve as an All-Star Game captain.
While both Spooner and Chu have been rivals throughout their careers, whether it be part of the eternal rivalry between Canada and the US at the international hockey level or the extension of the Montreal vs. Toronto hockey rivalry at the CWHL level, their world class skills have resulted in a remarkable presence that has earned the respect of fans, regardless of which side they choose to support. Once again such admiration will continue on January 23 at the Air Canada Centre as their newest roles as All-Star Game captains is the crowning touch to a pair of unforgettable hockey legacies.