Sledge athletes school a Nova Scotia Olympian in the sport they love

Women's hockey Olympian Jill Saulnier tried out sledge hockey with some very determined young players with a variety of physical and intellectual disabilities.

Women's hockey medallist Jill Saulnier tried out sledge hockey alongside some very determined athletes

Brothers Richard and Michael MacCormack played alongside Olympic hockey medallist Jillian Saulnier during a Learn to Sledge session on Saturday in Bedford, N.S. (Michelle MacMullin/Easter Seals Nova Scotia)

Olympian Jillian Saulnier took to the ice Saturday in Bedford, N.S., for the first time since her team won the women's hockey silver in Pyeongchang.

This time she was alongside young athletes learning to play sledge hockey. Para ice hockey is part of the Paralympics. 

The session, part of Easter Seals and HRM Learn to Sledge hockey program, was also Saulnier's first time playing sledge.

"I have so much respect for sledge athletes. It's absolutely amazing what they do," she said.

"One of them was chirping me because I didn't get a lot of goals. It was a lot of fun just to see them smiling and organizing their time out there."

It was Jillian Saulnier's first time trying sledge hockey, which was challenging even for an Olympian. (Radio-Canada )

The program introduces sledge hockey to young people with a variety of physical and intellectual disabilities.

The game involves players, two sticks and a double-bladed sledge. Some players use the sticks to propel themselves along the ice. Volunteers and parents push kids who don't have the strength to do it themselves. 

Ronna MacCormack was skating alongside two of her boys Saturday morning. Her son, Michael, who is able to skate, started playing sledge after seeing his brother enjoying it. 

"It means everything. It's something Richard can do and he absolutely loves," she said.

Van Bernard got to try on Jillian Saulnier's silver medal Saturday at the Learn to Sledge program in Bedford, N.S. (Michelle MacMullin/Easter Seals Nova Scotia)

Faye Joudrey, who helped found the Halifax program eight years ago, said many kids with disabilities love hockey but never had the opportunity to play. Since Learn to Sledge began eight years ago, several players have gone on to play for teams. 

"We always try to encourage them to have fun. Once they're having fun, then we can work on their skill development and strength," she said. 

The Learn to Sledge program is offered across Nova Scotia in Yarmouth, Bridgewater, Kentville, Bedford, Halifax Oval, Truro, Pictou, Antigonish and Sydney. (Radio-Canada)

It's also an opportunity for families to connect off the ice. 

"Kids help each other. The parents talk, share information about what they're doing, what helps their kids," Joudrey said. 

The organization asked Saulnier to come by because it's important to have role models to inspire the young athletes, she said. 

"They feel like they're all one now, all part of it … they're not being singled out because they might appear different."

With files from Radio-Canada's Stephanie Blanchet