A year ago, Natalie Spooner was a new mother and her professional women's hockey league was still a concept.

On Thursday, the high-scoring Toronto forward was named the most valuable player of the inaugural Professional Women's Hockey League season.

Spooner was presented with the Billie Jean King MVP Award, as well as the league's award for top forward, at a ceremony Tuesday afternoon.

"A year ago I wouldn't have believed we would have an actual league to play in," Spooner said.

"I think even coming into this season with how my summer was last year and recovering from having my son Rory and getting my body back to normal -- I didn't skate for six months leading up to the season -- I probably wouldn't have thought it would have gone this way."

Spooner led the league with 20 goals and 27 points as Toronto finished the season atop the standings. The 33-year-old's league-leading 20 goals were nine more than the next closest skater.

New York's Alex Carpenter and Montreal's Marie-Philip Poulin were the other finalists for the MVP award.

The 33-year-old Spooner credited her teammates and coaches for creating a culture in Toronto that made success possible, and pointed to Kristen Campbell winning goaltender of the year and Troy Ryan winning coach of the year as proof.

Campbell had a 16-6-0 record with three shutouts and a 1.99 goals-against average, while Ryan coached Toronto to a league-leading 47 points (13 regulation wins, four overtime wins and seven regulation losses).

"For Soupy (Campbell) to win goaltender of the year, Troy to win coach of the year, I think there were a lot of pieces there that allowed me to also have success," she said.

"I got to play with amazing players and our team made it fun to come to the rink every day."

The season, however, ended on a dark note for both Spooner and her team. Up 2-0 in its best-of-five semifinal against Minnesota, Spooner sustained a knee injury in Game 3 when she collided with Minnesota's Grace Zumwinkle. Minnesota went on to win the series in five games en route to defeating Boston in the Walter Cup final.

Spooner, who attended the ceremony on crutches, did not provide a timeline for her return. But she said she views recovering from a knee injury as a more certain process than returning from childbirth.

"There's very regimented rehab protocols. It's very outlined in that sense," she said.

"I feel a lot of peace and confidence going into this rehab knowing that there is some sort of timeline."

Zumwinkle was named rookie of the year after posting 11 goals and eight assists in 24 games.

Montreal's Erin Ambrose won defender of the year honours with 18 points in 24 games and an average 26 minutes 26 seconds of ice time per game.

Montreal’s Maureen Murphy won the Hockey For All Award for her volunteer work.

An 18-member selection committee voted on the winners between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2024.