For the casual hockey fans that may not have been familiar with Jillian Saulnier, her exhilarating performance at the third CWHL All-Star Game definitely made them gain notice. Along with Jess Jones, each scored a hat trick, representing a historic first in All-Star history. Saulnier would even log an assist on one of Jess Jones goals, as both were teammates on Team White. Undoubtedly, their contributions were essential towards a 9-5 victory against Team Blue.
Also a competitor in the 2016 CWHL All-Star Game, where she suited up for Team Black alongside Game MVP Marie-Philip Poulin, Saulnier turned heads at that event with one of the most skillful goals ever scored. Stealing the puck from Team White’s Dru Burns, Saulnier quickly converted the steal into a goal. Such a fascinatingly impressive play resulted in the prestige of an instant replay during the Game’s national TV broadcast on Sportsnet, along with praise from the announcers.
Skating for the winning team once again in her second straight All-Star Game this season, this year’s edition only built on the momentum from last season, which was highlighted by more than 8,000 fans, setting a CWHL attendance record. Although Saulnier’s hat trick may be the catalyst towards transforming her into one of the greatest stars of her generation, her reflections on the All-Star experience represent a gracious appreciation for the opportunity to be part of a treasured moment in league history.
“I was really impressed with the overall experience at the All-Star game this year, from the Draft evening to the amount of fans in the stands. I think it is an amazing event and I was really excited this year when I got the email inviting me out!”
Statistically, Saulnier has proven to be a marvel for the Inferno. Finishing the regular season among the top 15 scorers in the race for the Angela James Bowl, she would trail only Bailey Bram for the Inferno team lead in goals. She would also tie with Iya Gavrilova and Brianne Jenner for the team lead in power play goals.
Over the last 12 months, Saulnier has enjoyed the opportunity to compete at three different NHL rinks, including Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre, where she captured the Clarkson Cup, Montreal’s Bell Centre, along with Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, site of the first three CWHL All-Star Games. With her hockey roots in Nova Scotia, Saulnier is familiar with all three NHL clubs.
The opportunity to grace NHL ice provides more than just a feeling of acceptance as a sport of major league caliber. There is a sense of increased importance for the players, not just for their recognition as elite athletes, but in recognition for all the sacrifices made along the way to this remarkable pinnacle. That feeling of importance, especially with the All-Star Game, quickly becoming a vital event in the women’s hockey calendar, is an aspect that Saulnier feels strongly about,
“Absolutely. These rinks are where the pros play, and when we have the opportunity to experience a game like they do, it is a really special feeling. I am a huge Habs fan, so being able to play at the Bell Centre was something I will never forget.”
Sharing in the sense of history with Jess Jones by scoring the first hat tricks in All-Star history, it also resulted in Saulnier tying with Team White skaters Rebecca Johnston, also a teammate with the Calgary Inferno, and Poulin with four points. While Saulnier’s All-Star Game heroics adds another chapter to her growing legend, increasing her influence as a Maritime sporting sensation, it also establishes her as one worth watching for as Canada looks towards assembling its roster for the 2018 Winter Games.
Having already established herself as the most talented women’s ice hockey player to hail from the province of Nova Scotia, Saulnier’s swift skating; scoring instinct, forthcoming smile and overall gracious demeanor makes her a cornerstone for any team that she plays with. Regardless of her statistical achievements, Saulnier’s core values are built on the important significance of teamwork and mutual respect. In reflecting on such a memorable time at the Air Canada Centre, it is evident that the achievements were only part of a bigger story, one in which the game was celebrated and all players involved, regardless of whether they wore Team Blue or Team White, were collectively enthusiastic about the opportunity to participate in a showcase of talent and sportsmanship.
“It was definitely exciting to be able to help the team any way I could. At the end of the day, as competitive as the All-Star game is, it is such a fun opportunity to play with and against some of the best players in the world, but also some of our best friends. We go through so much together, both highs and lows, so to be able to play in such an exciting event with such amazing people, is definitely an experience I will never forget.”
"All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Chris Tanouye/CWHL