Halifax's hockey hero: Jillian Saulnier ready to represent city, country at Pyeongchang
The forward for the Canadian women's hockey team is one of two players on the team from Nova Scotia.
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Jill Saulnier was only nine years old when she watched the Canadian women’s hockey team win gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
But the memory and the emotion of the moment stuck.
“My mom actually took a picture of me and my brother standing in front of the TV with ‘Number 1’ held up because I was just so excited,” Saulnier, now 25, said in a recent phone interview from South Korea, where she’s training for the 2018 Winter Olympics as a member of the Canadian women’s hockey team.
“Going back in time and remembering watching that and now being able to put my skates on and do that myself? I obviously hope that things repeat themselves and I’m able to experience such an amazing opportunity like those women did representing the country in 2002.”
The 2018 Canadian women’s hockey team marks an historic first for this province, which for the first time can count not just one, but two Nova Scotian athletes on its roster.
Saulnier, a Halifax native, joins Blayre Turnbull from Stellarton as the first two Nova Scotians to sport Team Canada jerseys.
“Being a female hockey player, the NHL just isn’t an option for us so making the Olympic team, representing Canada and going to the Olympics has always been my dream and the reason I was training so hard,” Saulnier said.
“It was all for that moment on Dec. 22 when I found out that I made the team. When I did find out, my coach leaned over and stuck her hand out and she said ‘Congrats on being an Olympian.’ That was a very, very emotional time.”
Saulnier said the support she’s received from Canadians has already been overwhelming, and the Pyeongchang games don’t even start until later this week.
“People are so supportive and so in our corner. To be from Nova Scotia as well and to share that accomplishment with Blayre is really special,” she said.
Saulnier said as incredible as it is to be representing her country on the international stage, she knows the eyes of many girls from Nova Scotia will be on her.
She doesn’t take that lightly.
“I take a lot of pride in knowing that there are young girls back home who are watching the TV like I once did, watching Blayre and I from Nova Scotia do this,” she said.
“Everything is impossible until someone accomplishes it. So it’s important for us to be able to do that and share that experience together, and to show those girls that wherever you’re from, your dream is possible if you work hard for it.”
Work she did. Saulnier said reaching her biggest dream meant making many sacrifices, and she credits her parents for helping pave the way.
“They’re elated. They’ve been in my corner forever and they believed in this dream as much if not more than I did,” she recalled.
“They were the ones who had to drop me off at a prep school when I was 15 when no one wanted me to go and I didn’t want to go. But we all knew those were the first steps we needed to take to experience the excitement and this dream coming true today.”
The 2018 Canadian women’s Olympic hockey team is hoping to bring home Canada’s fifth consecutive gold medal. When asked about her team’s greatest strength, Saulnier doesn’t hesitate.
“We have such a deep team and we have so much heart on this team. We’re ready,” she said.
“We’ve been together since August preparing for this moment to be here, and everything is really gelling well with the girls and staff and I think Canada will be very proud by what we put forth at the Olympics.”
Saulnier said the development of women’s hockey has been “amazing” in recent years and she’s excited to be part of it.
“It’s the talent and the hard work we put in behind the scenes that a lot of people don’t see, and I think it’s all beginning to show. People in Canada and across the world are all seeing the level of effort and skill female hockey players have been able to develop,” she said.
“Because of that, people want to watch. It’s exciting and it’s the fastest game in the world. To be able to be a part of that, and to know that all of Canada is behind us is a pretty surreal feeling.”
Saulnier Fun Facts:
Favourite food: I have lots of favourite foods. (Laughs). But I really like ice cream!
Favourite movie: The Blind Side
Favourite book: I just read Abby Wambach’s biography and I really enjoyed that.
Favourite hockey team: Montreal Canadiens
Favourite hockey player: Crosby. I really like watching Sidney.
Favourite spot in Nova Scotia: That would definitely be Halifax, and I’d say anywhere by the water.