N.S. hockey players step closer to Beijing Olympics
Jill Saulnier and Blayre Turnbull have their sights set on gold
Jill Saulnier and Blayre Turnbull have had one taste of silver, and don't want another.
The Nova Scotians have been invited to try out for Team Canada's 2022 Olympic team.
Getting that call was an emotional moment, especially after a long pandemic year and a half of few games and on-ice opportunities, they both said.
"When they congratulated me, I just started crying because it's just been four really tough years, to be honest, just training and making sure I was my best," Halifax's Saulnier said in a recent interview.
"To get the good news, it's been really, really exciting."
Of the 28 names announced last week, only 23 will be chosen for the final squad headed to Beijing this February.
It's a position both athletes have been in before.
Turnbull, from Stellarton, and Saulnier won silver with Team Canada at the 2018 games in PyeongChang after they lost the final to the U.S., as did about half of this first roster.
Defender Meaghan Mikkelson, and forwards Marie-Philip Poulin and Rebecca Johnston, are also three-time Olympians, having won gold in both 2010 and 2014.
Having so many Olympic veterans come together with the energy and "jump" of younger players is a great combination, Saulnier said, which she hopes will give them an edge.
Saulnier added that their group is also tight off the ice, which translates into a great connection in the rink.
But both Saulnier and Turnbull said they're aiming to come home with different hardware this time around.
"I've tasted silver now, so I know what that tastes like and I don't want that taste again," Saulnier said with a laugh.
She's proud of the 2018 medal, but "that that's not our mission," Saulnier said of the upcoming 2022 games.
Getting to the top of the Olympic podium is truly the "pinnacle" for all female hockey players, Saulnier said.
"The knowledge that I've been so fortunate to get from my last experience at the Olympics just makes me that much hungrier, and that much more motivated, to do everything we can to win that gold medal."
This time around, Saulnier said she's actually even more excited to be on the road to the Olympics than her first experience. Since she knows what to expect, she can prepare better both physically "but more importantly, mentally" Saulnier said.
Head coach Troy Ryan, a fellow Nova Scotian, was also behind the bench as staff member during that 2018 final.
Turnbull said that's a good thing, as Ryan might have some insight on what he needs to do as head coach to help the team win.
"I think he's more than prepared to do so. So I'm really excited that he has this opportunity," Turnbull said.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has meant far fewer games and ice time, the women's world championship is still on the horizon.
After rising cases of the virus and restrictions led the province to cancel the IIHF Women's World Hockey Championship in Nova Scotia for the second year in a row, Hockey Canada moved the tournament to Aug. 20-31 but has not announced a location.
Despite fewer games, Turnbull noted most athletes have been doing more gym training than ever before, and working hard in practices, which should put their Olympic team in a good spot.
"The team has been through a lot of adversity this year. And we all understand the opportunity at hand with getting on the ice as a team and being in that team environment," Turnbull said.
"I think we'll cherish it even more than we normally would."
The 28 players will gather in Calgary in late July for the Olympic camp.