One of the most prodigious hockey talents of this decade, Jillian Saulnier has reached a new apex with a spot on Canada’s roster for women’s ice hockey at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. The first woman from Nova Scotia to play for Canada at all three levels of its National Women’s Program, the promise of such an amazing career was fulfilled with an outpouring of emotion, thrilled at the revelation that the Winter Games would be the next step in this remarkable odyssey.
“I completely broke down in the best way possible. All I remember is Couch Schuler sticking her hand out when I went in the room for the news, and saying to me “Congratulations on being an Olympian”. I didn’t have any words, I started crying instantly. The rest is a complete blur. It was the best day of my life.”
Amassing 59 points in 68 overall appearances in a Canadian jersey, including 23 games with senior team, the decade began with the chance to skate alongside the likes of Erin Ambrose, Jessica Campbell, Sarah Davis and Jamie Lee Rattray, among others. Together, they would make Canadian sporting history, contributing towards their homeland winning the gold at the 2010 IIHF Under-18 Women’s Worlds, the first-ever gold in program history.
By 2010, Saulnier had already established herself as a mainstay for Canada’s national women’s program. Of note, her first appearance in a Canadian jersey took place in August 2008 as the U18 National Team challenged their American counterparts to a three-game exhibition in Lake Placid, New York.
Following it up with a silver medal at the 2009 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, only the second such event in its history, such events already enhanced a sparkling hockey resume.
Serving as the captain of Team Atlantic at 2008 U18 Nationals, Saulnier even played for Nova Scotia at the 2007 Esso Women’s Nationals, the precursor to the Clarkson Cup, which she would go on to win with the Calgary Inferno in 2016.
Among the phenomenal talent that competed on that dominant Inferno team was a fellow Nova Scotian. Raised in Stellarton, Blayre Turnbull scored the game-winning goal in the Clarkson Cup finals. Although her collegiate years would take her to the American Midwest, where she played for Miracle on Ice member Mark Johnson as a member of the Wisconsin Badgers, the chance to be part of the Canadian national team at the 2018 Winter Games has added tremendous luster to both of their careers.
Along with Turnbull, both have made history as the first Nova Scotians to play Olympic women’s hockey. To share in this experience alongside Turnbull is one that truly enriches the feeling of achievement for a jubilant Saulnier,
“It makes this Olympics even more special for sure. Blayre and I have shared this dream our whole lives. Being able to have that motivation that we could both experience this Olympic dream together, made all the hard work and sacrifices we both have had to endure a lot more bearable with her by my side this whole journey.”
Undoubtedly, Saulnier’s hockey career and its numerous milestones have been one defined by the theme of a shared journey. Campbell, who scored the gold medal winning goal at the 2010 U18 Worlds also played with Saulnier at Cornell University, sharing in an ECAC championship together. Having also won the Ivy League Rookie of the Year Award, Saulnier would enjoy calling Campbell a teammate on that memorable Clarkson Cup win, the first-ever for the Inferno.
One year earlier, the two were also teammates on Canada’s women’s team that gained silver at the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds. Although Campbell has hung up her skates, taking on the role of coach, along with an important role as a public speaker and an advocate of mental health awareness, the impact of the Inferno is one that still yields positive dividends.
In looking at Canada’s roster for the Winter Games, other players such as Bailey Bram, Brianne Jenner, Rebecca Johnston, Brigitte Lacquette and Turnbull can also be traced back to the Inferno’s Cup winner. In discussing whether so many familiar faces from the Inferno has helped make the adjustment to a whole new level of hockey easier, Sauliner replies with a definitive word,
“Absolutely. The chemistry that we have on this team in undeniable. Being able to develop those friendships with not only the girls who I played with the past few years on Calgary, but also the rest of the team when we moved together back in August, has certainly crossed over to our success we have seen on the ice. I have never been on a team that gelled the way these girls do.”
Coincidentally, Ambrose and Laura Stacey, who both called Saulnier teammates with the PWHL’s Toronto Jr. Aeros were also part of Canada’s Centralization Camp that began in the autumn of 2017.
For Saulnier, the calendar year of 2017 would prove to be a most eventful one. Early in the year, she was bestowed the privilege of serving as the captain of Canada’s U22/Development Team at the Nations Cup in Fussen, Germany. Upon her return to Canadian soil, she contributed towards the Calgary Inferno returning to the Clarkson Cup Finals, which also included participation in the third CWHL All-Star Game.
With the arrival of autumn, preparation for the Winter Games, involving a very intense Centralization, the hard work that has been a decade in the making has brought Saulnier towards this new chapter in her career.
Although there is great anticipation at the dream of playing in the Winter Games becoming reality, the chance to be surrounded by the world’s finest in their respective sport, such a milestone will shine brighter with the acquisition of a gold medal.
Considering that Canada has captured four consecutive gold medals in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games, an unprecedented first, Saulnier would love to extend that incomparable run with a historic fifth. Having already enjoyed gold with the U18 and U22/Developmental teams, her list of achievements includes gold at the 2011 MLP Cup and the 2013 Nations Cup. Along with the gold at the 2014 Four Nations Cup on home soil in Kamloops, British Columbia, the attainment of gold at the Winter Games would result in a crowning achievement.
“Oh my gosh. I do not think there are words to explain what it would mean to bring a gold medal back to Canada. The first word that would come to mind would be pride. Pride in the girls and the staff on this team that have been through this journey together since day one, and in a way since we were 5 years old. Pride in the country behind us every step of the way, and pride in that maple leaf on the front of our jerseys that reminds us every single day, why we play this game we love.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Hockey Canada Images