Canada’s National Women’s Team is certainly not short on women’s worlds experience at the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championship; the 20 skaters have
combined to make 66 appearances, playing 321 games and scoring 116 goals.
And while most of those totals reside on the résumé of Hayley Wickenheiser, who sits third all-time in games played (56) and goals (37) in tournament
history, 19 different players have done their part.
That’s right, 19 out of 20,
Only one skater named to the Team Canada roster for Kamloops has yet to experience game action at a women’s worlds, and it took an early season
disappointment to push her game to the next level.
When Canada announced its line-up for the 2015 4 Nations Cup last October, Blayre Turnbull’s name was nowhere to be found. A member of the gold
medal-winning Canadian entry at the 4 Nations Cup one year earlier in Kamloops, Turnbull had hoped a strong start to the 2015-16 season would earn her a
chance at back-to-back gold medals.
But it wasn’t to be, at least not at first.
“I felt I had a really strong September camp, so that disappointment really fuelled the fire and motivated me even more to keep working hard,” Turnbull
says. “I knew I was doing the right things, I knew I was getting better, and continuing to develop on and off the ice.”
Just a few weeks later, opportunity knocked. When veteran forward Rebecca Johnston had to withdraw from Team Canada due to injury, Turnbull got the call to
fill the void and join the Canadians in Sundsvall, Sweden.
It didn’t take long for the Stellarton, N.S., native to prove she belonged; Turnbull recorded her first two national team goals in a pre-tournament win
“I was fortunate to go, and I thought it was my time to prove that I should have been there in the first place,” she says. “I wanted to do everything I
could do in my ability to make sure I left a lasting impression.”
And while she didn’t contribute on the scoresheet during the tournament, she left that lasting impression with head coach Laura Schuler and the rest of the
Team Canada staff, and will bring her self-described “grit and tenacity” to Canada’s Tournament Capital for the women’s worlds.
A proud Nova Scotian, Turnbull will have a couple of familiar faces along for the ride in Kamloops: Halifax, N.S., native Jillian Saulnier and Sarah Davis
of Paradise, N.L., make it an Atlantic Canada trifecta.
“We’re all very proud of where we come from, and to be able to represent the Atlantic region is a really big deal for us,” Davis says. “We’ve played with
each other before, and now it’s pretty cool to be able to play together for Team Canada.”
The three are certainly not strangers to sharing the ice; Davis and Saulnier – who both made their women’s worlds debut with Canada last year in Malmö,
Sweden – played together with Team Atlantic at three consecutive National Women’s Under-18 Championships from 2007-09, and Turnbull, the youngest of the
trio, joined them for the last of those tournaments.
Saulnier and Turnbull go even further back; they have been teammates off and on since they were nine years old, and came up together through the Hockey
Nova Scotia program.
“It’s special with Blayre,” Saulnier says. “We did the whole ‘away trips, home trips, sleepover parties with the team, road hockey until the lights went
out’ and so we go way back with the same dreams of playing for Team Canada together, and to be playing for Canada, and with the country behind us, it’s a
pretty special moment.”
The three had a chance to make a little more history earlier this month, helping the Calgary Inferno to its first Clarkson Cup championship and adding to
an already-impressive list of accomplishments that includes IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship gold medals, Nations Cup gold medals, and NCAA
Those accomplishments have made Davis, Saulnier and Turnbull celebrities in their home provinces, and across Atlantic Canada; they have become the faces of
female hockey, and it’s a role they take very seriously.
“It’s fun to go back to Nova Scotia and see all the young girls,” Saulnier says. “I have a camp now, and the first day of camp there were 60 or 70 girls
running around, and I went in the dressing room and I cried, I got really emotional. I just couldn’t believe it. They wanted to be there, they were having
fun, goofing around, but they were working so hard, and it was emotional because it was something I never had the opportunity to do.”
“We’re the first ones to play at this level, and we have a lot of players back home looking up to us,” adds Turnbull. “It’s special to go back home and
help them out any way we can. I know Jill and I love to hop on the ice and help out with teams when we go home, so to see the girls come out with big
smiles on their faces, wanting pictures and autographs, it’s surreal, but it’s special.”
While they focus on making their own Team Canada dreams become reality, the dreams of so many young girls in Atlantic Canada are never far from their
thoughts. They know what they say and what they do, on and off the ice, has the power to inspire the next generation.
And although the list of Atlantic Canadians who have represented Canada in international women’s hockey isn’t a long one, Davis always reminds young
players that their hometown shouldn’t determine their future.
“Your chances shouldn’t be hindered just because you come from Newfoundland or Nova Scotia or New Brunswick or P.E.I. Just believe in yourself and you can
accomplish anything, really.”