Nova Scotia

Jillian Saulnier's Olympic journey started at a backyard rink in Nova Scotia

Jillian Saulnier of Halifax showed talent on the ice from the beginning. Now she's off to the 2018 Olympics as a member of the Canadian women's hockey team.

Halifax hockey player 1 of 2 Nova Scotians competing at upcoming Olympics

Jillian Saulnier learning to skate at age two. (Submitted)

Jillian Saulnier's parents knew their daughter had very special talents on the ice.

Following her Grade 9 school year, Darren Saulnier and Christine Brennan realized their 15-year-old girl needed to leave Halifax to take her hockey skills to the next level.

Saulnier when she played for the Halifax Hawks. (Submitted)

Brennan said she will never forget dropping her daughter off at Berkshire School in Sheffield, Mass.

"It was really hard after we had dropped her off and we were getting in the van to head home," said Brennan. "I remember watching her walk away into the school's dining hall and it was really tough."

While that was a tough moment for her parents, it was a turning point in Saulnier's hockey career. She attended school for one year in Massachusetts and then completed high school in Ontario, where she played junior hockey.

That led to an offer from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where she played four seasons.

Saulnier is now in South Korea with her Team Canada teammates preparing for the women's Olympic hockey tournament, which begins in less than two weeks.

At 25, Saulnier is reaping the benefits of her parents' tough decision 10 years ago.

Saulnier on the ice for Cornell University. (Ned Dykes/Cornell University Athletics)

Brennan remembers the time when she first thought her daughter had a chance to make the Olympic team. It was during the 2016 world championships in Kamloops, B.C., and Saulnier had just skated out to take a faceoff in a game against Russia.

"I said, 'Oh my God, my kid is on a line with Hayley Wickenheiser.' It was a moment I will never, ever forget."

There has never been a Nova Scotia hockey player on the Canadian women's Olympic hockey team until now. Saulnier and Blayre Turnbull of Stellarton will make history when they skate onto the ice to play against a Russian team in their first Olympic game.

Behind the bench is another Nova Scotia connection. Assistant coach Troy Ryan is from Spryfield.

Saulnier battles with USA's Jocelyne Lamoureux Davidson at the women's world hockey championships in Kamloops, B.C., in 2016. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Hockey is in Saulnier's blood.

Her father played junior hockey in Halifax and her uncle, Duane Saulnier, was a record-breaking goal scorer in junior before playing hockey at St. Francis Xavier University. Her younger brother is currently playing college hockey at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Jillian Saulnier was on skates at the age of two on a backyard rink known in her neighbourhood as Saulnier Pond.

Throughout her minor hockey career she played on several boys teams and won provincial championships.

"Her skill level back then as a 10-year-old was incredible," said Kevin Cameron, an assistant coach with the Halifax Hawks atom AAA team that Saulnier played for.

"She had a passion for the game at an early age and I remember her playing countless hours of street hockey with the boys in the neighbourhood."

Jillian Saulnier with her father, Darren, when she played at Berkshire School in Sheffield, Mass. (Submitted)

Hockey Nova Scotia has prepared a special banner signed by female hockey players from around the province that will be delivered to Saulnier and Turnbull before the Olympics begin in Pyeongchang.

"We are so proud of those two girls and what they've done," said Hockey Nova Scotia executive director Darren Cossar. "They give back every summer when they're home, they help out with local programs here."

Christine Brennan, Saulnier's mother, is ready to cheer on her daughter in Pyeongchang. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Brennan said she can't wait to hop on the plane that will be taking her to South Korea to watch her daughter play at the Olympics.

As she poured through the 10 large containers at her home that hold hundreds of pictures of her daughter's career, she had a hard time holding in her excitement.

"I have not come down at all," said Brennan. "I don't really know what's going to happen after the Olympics are over, I mean I'm on Cloud 11."

How I Tape My Stick | Jillian Saulnier

5 years ago
Duration 1:22
National hockey team member Jill Saulnier uses black tape to trick the goalie...jury's still out on if it works or not.