As the Winter Olympics continues to grab the attention of the world, three former Ohio State athletes have already taken part in the opening days of the event.
Former OSU women’s hockey players Natalie Spooner (Canada) and Finnish athletes Emma Terho and Minttu Tuominen have each played three games so far in the women’s hockey tournament. Spooner has yet to score but has two assists for a Canadian team that is 3-0 so far, including a win over fellow tournament favorite Team USA on Wednesday, while Finland opened with close losses to the U.S. (3-1) and Canada (3-0) before beating Switzerland by a 4-3 score on Wednesday.
With pool play over, all three teams move on to the medal round. In the quarterfinals, Finland takes on either Russia vs. Sweden on Saturday, while Canada has a bye into Monday’s semifinals as it tries to defend its gold medal.
Before all three of those athletes – who are joined on the men’s side by former Buckeye Ryan Kesler (2003), who scored in Team USA's debut this morning – left for Sochi, they took the time to talk with Buckeye Sports Bulletin. Here’s what each had to say as they go for gold.
The Scarborough, Ontario, native played for the Buckeyes from 2009-12, rewriting the record books along the way. In 2012, she earned a finalist nod for the Patty Kazmaier Award (given to NCAA women’s hockey’s top player) and second-team All-America status thanks to a program-record 31 goals, enough to give her a school-record 100 tallies in her career. She is in her first Olympics after having played in the last three world championships.
Ohio State head coach Nate Handrahan on Spooner: “I was real proud of Natalie in the year we had with her. I wish I had more opportunity to coach her longer, but she had a terrific year. She scored (more than) 30 goals that year, she was an All-American. She played very well for us. She works very hard and she stayed on the right path with regards to what Hockey Canada had asked her to do, so it was good. It was a fun year. Natalie is a great person and fierce competitor so I wasn’t shocked when she was named to the team.”
BSB: What does it feel like to have reached your dream?
Spooner: “It’s kind of unreal and unbelievable, but it’s super exciting at the same time. It’s like a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to make the Olympics. It was such a long process leading up to it, it was pretty stressful, so when it actually happened and we found out the team, it was pretty exciting.”
BSB: What are some of the things you want to do in Sochi?
Spooner: “First, just being able to be a part of the Olympics, I never really thought that dream would come true of mine. Being able to say, “I’m an Olympian,’ and say I’m going to the Olympics is definitely a big thing. Then taking part in the little things, the Opening Ceremonies, the Closing Ceremonies, I’ve heard everything away from hockey is really cool, too, so I’m excited to experience the little things away from hockey. My biggest achievement is to be in the Olympics playing hockey, so I’m super excited to be able to play in those games.”
BSB: When did you first realize this might be something you could accomplish?
Spooner: “I think I realized it was possible when I finally made the senior team for the first time. That was my goal, and I was going to do everything I could do be on that roster. I did everything I could so at the end of the day, if my name wasn’t on the roster, I knew I’d given it my all. I was super happy that I made it and accomplished my goal because I tried so hard to get there.”
BSB: What has been your path since leaving Ohio State?
Spooner: “I played for the Toronto Furies (of the CWHL), and there’s quite a few girls that were in the Canada program on my team so we would just train together and in practice we would try to push each other. It was pretty good. It helped playing with a lot of national team players and against them leading up to the centralization process (last August).”
BSB: How did your experience at Ohio State help you get to where you are?
Spooner: “I loved my experience at Ohio State, and I wish I could still be there sometimes, but yeah, I think having all the resources there and also being able to get my education and play hockey, it was a great thing for me. Being able to play with and against some of the best players in Canada and America I think was great. Being in the WCHA, I got to play against a lot of the U.S. girls that I play against now, so that gives me a bit of confidence knowing I have played against them and I can do it now. It’s not too much different.”
BSB: When you chose Ohio State, did you know the school could help you achieve your ultimate goals?
Spooner: “I think so. When I came down (on a recruiting visit) I stayed with (former OSU player/2010 Canadian Olympian) Tessa Bonhomme, who was obviously on the Canadian team, and I looked up to her a lot. I think she had gotten better from going there, so I thought the coaches were good and I had a lot of resources. I love the school and decided to go there, and I think it was a great fit for me.”
BSB: What does having the OSU career record with 100 goals mean to you?
Spooner: “I think it’s a great accomplishment. Being able to go to college and make an impact and help your team win some games, we didn’t have a great record, but beingable to do all right, that was pretty exciting for our Ohio State team.”
BSB: What does mean wearing the maple leaf sweater?
Spooner: “It’s such an honor every time I get to put it on. I just get excited knowing that there’s so many little girls in Canada who are looking up to you, girls who want to be in your spot, so I just try to make everyone proud and make my country proud and make my family proud. I think it’s super exciting to be able to represent your country.”
BSB: Were you one of those girls?
Spooner: “Yeah, I always remember watching Team Canada. I went to a few games, and I think I must have been around 12 or 13, I went to a camp and Jennifer Botterill was there and she brought her Olympic medal. I was like star-struck and I was like, ‘Wow, I would really like to do that.’ I thought that was really cool, and I think that sparked something in me and made me want to achieve my goals in hockey.”
BSB: Rumor has it you and Bonhomme, who comes from a musically inclined family, have formed a band.
Spooner: “We were called the T-Spoons for Tessa and Spooner, so the T-Spoons. In centralization we had more people who wanted to join our band. We haven’t really been practicing because Tessa is gone, but she gets her guitar and I sing and it keeps everyone entertained. Her family is pretty musical, so she’s pretty good on guitar. I am not terrible, but I’m not like a great singer. I enjoy it. I’ve always been the singer in the locker room, so I think it was fitting I was the singer in the band.”
EMMA TERHO (LAAKSONEN)
Terho – whose maiden name is Laaksonen, and who also has a 2-year-old son, Timi – is the only Buckeye with her number retired. No one will wear her No. 3 again at OSU after she became the program’s first All-American and finalist for the Kazmaier Award in ’02. Terho, played at OSU from 2001-04, finished her Buckeye career with 34 goals and 65 assists, and her 99 points are currently ninth in program history, third among defensemen. She is in her record-tying fifth Olympics, having won a pair of bronze medals.
Handrahan: “We’re very proud of her, and because we haven’t had that much interaction because our times didn’t cross paths, it doesn’t diminish our pride in her and all of her accomplishments. We’re looking forward to that day when we can meet and spend some good time chatting about her stories with the program, but she’s done some great things as well.”
BSB: Could you have ever imagined as a youngster playing in five Olympic Games? What does it mean to you to have been able to reach the accomplishment of playing five times?
Terho: “Absolutely not! First I thought, it’ll be Nagano (in 1998) and then I’ll move on to something else, but new challenges always kept coming and motivating me. Most importantly, I just have been enjoying training and playing so much and have had numerous unexpected and great experiences come along.”
BSB: Was there ever any doubt you'd play this time around? I have read where you took some time off to focus on your job, so how did you decide that you were going to keep playing this time around?
Terho: “We don’t have a chance to play pro and I’ve always had goals also off the ice. After Vancouver, I had been making everything hockey first for the past 15 years and my employer had been really flexible. I wanted to concentrate on that as well as on finishing my master’s degree. With the national team the camps take around 100 days a year so it means a lot of decisions in the life outside sports. I stepped away from that although I continued playing the whole time with my club team.”
BSB: You have a young son; between work and being a mother, has it been difficult to get ready for this Olympic appearance?
Terho: “Honestly, maybe I wouldn’t be playing anymore without him! During pregnancy I obviously took more time off and it made me realize how much I enjoyed playing and being with the team. As I was on maternity leave (we get 10 months in Finland) I was with my club team and it was a great break going at the rink and seeing all my teammates. It was a great help for me, almost 20 nannies there right away. I believe he has made me stronger mentally and maybe more relaxed as well. I started slow but as it seemed to not be a big problem getting back in shape, I figured why not try. Actually, this time around there are four mothers on the Finnish team (compared to none in Vancouver) so we get support from each other as well.”
BSB: As you look back on previous Olympic appearances, does it ever become routine being a part of something like that, or is there fresh excitement each time?
Terho: “No, it’s exciting each time! Especially this time around, guess it’s a ‘new’ and fresh situation being a mother athlete, and especially after I kinda got this time as 'extra' that wasn’t sure if it was still coming. Really have wanted to prepare well so all the time spent away from my son isn’t for nothing.”
BSB: What have you done with the two Olympic medals you've earned? Is it safe to say earning those were the crowning achievements of your career, and how much do they mean to you?
Terho: Right now, they are at my home. They used to be at my parents house for a long time as I was living in different places in the world. The medals are great but the best thing of my career still are all the friendships and experiences made during the journey."
BSB: Looking back, how did your time at Ohio State help you to get where you are today? What did it mean to you to be the first Buckeye to have her number retired and is it pretty cool to look back on that now, a few years later?
Terho: “At OSU I learned to enjoy all the small successes instead of being afraid of making mistakes. I also learned to push myself to a new limit with the help of my teammates and coaches. I am a very proud Buckeye and am extremely honored to have that number retired as I know there are many great players.”
BSB: Having played at Espoo and on the national team with Minttu Tuominen, what kind of player and person is she? She said you played a role in her ending up at Ohio State, were you happy to see she ended up in Columbus as well?
Terho: “I was very happy see here ending there and also that she loved the four years there just like I did myself! She’s a very determined player and person, sets her goals high and is really putting work into reaching them. Also, she smiles a lot which is also great!”
BSB: What are your plans for after this Olympics tournament? If this ends up being the last big major tournament for you, is it kind of bittersweet or exciting to be in the spot you are right now?
Terho: “It exciting, I want to just concentrate on the moment and live in the moment. That way I will be able to fully enjoy the experience and also hopefully get the best result. The feeling afterwards will be a thing to worry about then.”
Tuominen finished her four-year OSU career a season ago, posting 16 goals and 33 assists in 124 career games while also excelling in the weight room and the classroom. She is in her second Olympics, having paired with Terho last time around to earn a bronze medal.
Handrahan on Tuominen: “She was a fierce competitor. I think that we were able to help her grow as a player in her time with us, and she is such a great ambassador for our program. She got great grades, worked hard off the ice, was involved in the community. She has that ‘it’ – the national team in Finland, I think that’s why they love her so much.”
BSB: Do you remember when you started playing hockey? How old were you? When did you know you'd had a chance to reach the level of not just Olympian but two-time Olympian?
Tuominen: “I started playing hockey in 2002 so I was 12. Until then I played basketball, soccer and ringette ever since I was 5 or so. In ringette, I played both the goalie and player but most of the time they wanted me to play goalie so I started hockey as well because I loved skating. Since 2004-2005 I kept making the development (and later on selection) camps for the U-20 team but I was only doing it because I loved the sport and wanted to get better. I don't think I ever really thought that I was good. Nothing was ever enough.
“I think during 2006 Olympics in Italy I figured out that women play hockey in the Olympics and thought that was pretty cool, but I don't think it was until the spring 2008 when me and UMD defender Tea Villila made it our goal to play in Vancouver. In Vancouver I decided that it wouldn't be my only Olympics. In the end, I think what drives me (and drove me when I was younger) is not the status of being an Olympian but constantly wanting to improve and be better. I'm a perfectionist.”
BSB: What does it mean to you each time you put on the Finland jersey?
Tuominen: “It's a huge honor. It is also a responsibility because a lot of young girls look up to the team and the players. You don't just play for a team, you play for your country, and I feel like if we give 100 percent and play with sisu (Finnish word, translates to grit and never giving up) then people all over the world characterize Finnish people like that.”
BSB: What do you think you can take from your last Olympics that will help you this time around?
Tuominen: “I definitely want to experience the feeling of winning and holding an Olympic medal again! This time around I won't be nervous so I get to enjoy the trip a little more. I also know how to handle the distractions in the village.”
BSB: You were obviously pretty young last time you were in the Olympics. Do you feel more ready to be on this big stage, more mature as a person or a hockey player?
Tuominen: “I was the youngest player on the team and didn't play much so I just tried to take it all in and learn from the experience. Sure it was hard to sit and cheer on the team when all you really want to do is play, but I realized later that I wouldn't have been ready to play at that level just yet – not like the other players on the team in Vancouver were and not like I am now. I'm more mature as a person and a player, I have more confidence, better skills, and I make better choices on the ice now. And I have a tremendous fire to play well and help the team win.”
BSB: How did playing at Ohio State continue to help you reach your goals on the international stage? Do you miss being at OSU at all?
Tuominen: “I miss it a whole lot. Just the atmosphere in practices, in games, it's so competitive and you have to give 100 percent to win. I got to play four years with great players and amazing teammates. Such a dedicated and professional coaching staff that there is no way you would not become a better player and a better person if you listen to them and do what they say. I had some of the best coaches to ever coach me and I learned a great deal from them. They really believed in me and I appreciate them for that. We also had an awesome community behind us and I hope more people begin to support women's hockey at OSU.”
BSB: What's it like playing with someone like Emma, who is going into her fifth Olympics? Has she been able to help you a lot over the years?
Tuominen: “We both played for Espoo Blues from 2006-2009, winning three national championships. Playing in five Olympics just shows her dedication and love for the sport, even now that she has a 2-year-old child. And her success never got in her head. That's why I respect her so much because she is so humble. She also played a role in me getting into Ohio State. A great teammate and captain, always thinking what's best for the team. She also helped me in the fall when I was having a hard time adjusting to being back in the Finnish league. The game is so different. She talked to me about her experience when she got back and said it wasn't any easier for her but it will get better."
BSB: Have you ever heard Spooner sing? She said she and Tessa Bonhomme sometimes play music together.
Tuominen: “I bet they do haha, and yes, every day for the three years we played together at OSU! She's not bad either.”