Part of a new generation of women’s hockey superstars, Jillian Saulnier continues to make an impression. The first skater from Nova Scotia to compete with Canada’s national team at the IIHF Women’s Worlds, her Maritime roots were evident at the second CWHL All-Star Game.
Skating from Team Black, Saulnier was joined by fellow Maritimer Kim Deschenes. Raised in New Brunswick, she was the first player from the province selected in the first round of the CWHL Draft. Along with Saulnier, they were the first from their respective provinces to participate in the CWHL All-Star Game, each scoring a goal, respectively.
While Deschenes’ goal was the fifth and final goal for Team Black, part of a convincing 5-1 victory for Team Black, Saulnier’s goal stood as the game-winning tally. As a side note, it marked the second straight year that a player from the Inferno scored the winning in the All-Star Game.
In the inaugural Game, Rebecca Johnston accomplished it, gaining MVP honors in the process. Adding to the unique sense of coincidence is the fact that both winning teams in the first two All-Star Games featured a captain from the Montreal franchise; Charline Labonte in the first for Team Red, while the second game featured Julie Chu leading Team Black.
Of note, Saulnier would log the game-winning tally against Labonte in a dazzling display of sensation skill which was clearly the play of the game. With high traffic in front of the Team White crease, Saulnier stripped the puck from an unsuspecting Dru Burns, burying it past a surprised Labonte, as the crowd roared in enthusiastic approval.
Considering that Saulnier scored the game winning goal in her All-Star debut, it resulted in several milestones in just one game. In addition, Saulnier becomes the first rookie to score the All-Star winning goal.
“Being a part of the All-Star game was an amazing experience. I felt incredibly humbled and honoured to be on the ice with some of the best players in the world, and to be able to contribute to the teams win was just the cherry on top of an amazing day with some amazing people.”
Heading into the All-Star break, Saulnier ranked third in rookie scoring in the CWHL, trailing teammates Brianne Jenner and Elana Lovell. Scoring in her CWHL debut, an October 24 win against Boston, the Inferno are 10-3-0 when Saulnier logs at least one point.
There was another strong feeling of achievement for the jubilant Saulnier. Gaining the opportunity to play on a line for Team Black with Canadiennes de Montreal superstars Caroline Ouellette (the all-time leading scorer in league history) and Marie-Philip Poulin, whose two goals garnered her Game MVP honors. Being surrounded by two living legends was a tremendous highlight for her,
“I have looked up to Caro as a leader and an overall player with the National Team my entire life. So to be able to play the game on her line, and even just little things like chatting on the bench and enjoying this experience together, was a special moment for me for sure.
Not to mention having argumentatively the best player in the women’s game in Poulin as your centre, is certainly a highlight of the game for me. As much of a talent Poulin is on the ice, she is an even more phenomenal person off the ice, which makes me even more grateful to call her such an amazing friend.”
Among the competitors on Team White, some were very familiar faces for Saulnier. Considering that each team featured at least one player from all five CWHL franchises, the concept of having to play against a teammate from one’s club team was a unique experience for every All-Star. Inferno players selected to Team White included the likes of Jessica Campbell, Brittany Esposito, Brianne Jenner and Jacqui Pierri.
Fellow Inferno rookie (and former teammate with the Cornell Big Red) Brianne Jenner, would play on a line with Team White captain Natalie Spooner and Brampton sniper Jamie Lee Rattray. Considering that all three played with Saulnier at the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds, they are poised to be the cornerstone of the Canadian national team heading into the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games. For now, Saulnier is satisfied with the memories acquired from such an eventful day,
“This All Star game will definitely be tough to top. As much of an intense game it is when you bring such a pool of talent together, the All Star game was a great opportunity to play with and against some of your best friends. There certainly was no shortage of laughing and smiling between whistles and intermissions, but when the puck dropped we did what was ingrained in us as hockey players, and battled it out for the win. It was just an enjoyable experience overall.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Jess Bazal