Hockey fans in Nova Scotia have had plenty to celebrate in recent years.
Much of that fun has been led by a couple of players named Crosby and
Marchand. There’s also that kid named MacKinnon.
But fans of the female game have turned their attention to two other
players – those named Saulnier and Turnbull. Canada’s National Women’s Team
is centralized in Calgary, and Jill Saulnier and Blayre Turnbull, natives
of Halifax and Stellarton, respectively, are among the 28 players trying to
earn the right to represent their nation at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games
in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Never before has Nova Scotian played in an Olympics in women’s hockey.
“We have a great sense of community back home and the support is
overwhelming for Blayre and I,” says Saulnier. “It’s fun to do it with
someone else. Nothing is as much fun when you’re on your own, so to be able
to go back so many years with Blayre… It’s very flattering to be two of the
first to have that opportunity. To have the support behind us, we
definitely wouldn’t be here without that and we can feel the support and
the love from the province as we go towards this goal.”
Saulnier and Turnbull have been quick to embrace their roles, on the ice
and off it. They know they’re role models to countless young female hockey
players back home in Nova Scotia and they love giving back.
Both host annual hockey camps in their home province and help each other
out with their respective events. Saulnier says, when she and Turnbull were
growing up, they didn’t have the opportunity to attend female-only hockey
“When I had my first camp, there were 60 little girls running around and
they were so excited to play for the week,” says Saulnier. “I got emotional
because I never had that opportunity at an all-female camp with someone who
was striving to play for the Olympic team.
“Blayre was out there helping me with that and she does one also and it’s
really important to do that because it’s easy to get overwhelmed and it’s
easy to get caught up in the moment with what we’re doing individually.
It’s huge to step back and to recognize that we were those little girls not
long ago with big dreams.”
The Maritime pair go way back, about 15 years. The pair met, of course,
through hockey. Turnbull says she and Saulnier played on the Nova Scotia
Raiders elite Peewee team and have been great friends ever since.
Their stories are a little different but also parallel quite well, with
both getting their start playing with boys before jumping into the female
game in their early teens.
Saulnier’s brother Brennan was a hockey player and Jill says she “was a
nuisance in the stands” for her parents, so they wanted her on the ice as
well. She started young with the Apple Critters and fell in love with the
Turnbull says she was fortunate growing up in Stellarton, as there was a
pond just down the street from her house where she learned to skate with
the neighbourhood kids.
“The joke in my family is that I could skate before I could run,” says
Turnbull with a laugh.
Now, the two Nova Scotians are months away from potentially playing for
Canada at the Olympics. Turnbull says she gets chills each time Hockey
Canada holds a meeting or session on PyeongChang. She can’t quite believe
she’s in Calgary, given the winding road she has taken to get to
“There’s nothing I want more than to make the team,” says Turnbull. “It’s
something I’ve wanted since I watched the 2002 Olympics on TV with my
family. I was eight. I still remember how inspired I was by that team and I
knew, from that day on, I wanted to be on that ice and I wanted to wear
that jersey and compete at the Olympic Games.
“There was definitely a time where I thought my dreams of playing in the
Olympics probably weren’t going to come true. But I think I’m living proof
that if you want something and you put the work in, you persevere and you
overcome any obstacle that’s thrown your way, you can give yourself any
opportunity that you want.”