Hockey is a way of life for so many Maritimers.
We all have our own unique stories in the game.
From subtle beginnings to memorable Championship experiences, hockey becomes more than just a game it shapes our lives.
Hockey is more than just a game, it’s a way of life.
That’s what makes this Maritime trio’s journey and subsequent return home so special.
The game of hockey has been a part of Jill Saulnier, Blayre Turnbull and Troy Ryan’s lives as long as they can remember.
The Maritimes and Moncton host to another chapter one of hockey’s greatest rivalries as Team Canada take on their archrivals the United States at the Moncton’s downtown gem the Avenir Centre.
“It’s awesome,” Turnbull said of being back in the Maritimes.
“Our team is expecting a fun and energetic crowd and it’s great to be able to play in Moncton at such a nice venue.”
Moncton plays host to one of the longest fiercest rivalries the game has ever known on Tuesday night, but the Rivalry Series is larger than the game.
It’s another phenomenal showcase for women’s hockey in this region.
Games like this one will inspire the next generation of young girls from this region to dream of one day donning the Maple Leaf.
“It’s really important,” said Turnbull referring to the significance of the game in this region.
“Little girls out there don’t often get to see hockey played at this level by women so I think it’s good for them to see us play especially against our rivals the Americans.”
“For me I think back to when I first started idolizing women hockey players when I got to see them play in Halifax at the World Championships in 2004,” explained Turnbull.
“It’s very humbling to come from the east coast and having so much support,” said Saulnier.
The impact of the Rivalry Series and the state of the women’s game isn’t lost on these proud Nova Scotian’s
Sauliner, Turnbull and many other women are banding together to ensure the women’s game is in good stead moving forward.
“It’s just about paving the way and making sure that everyone that see us this week here in Moncton are inspired and proud of performance that we put on,” she said.
Competition is fierce on the ice, however there’s always competition from within as well. Team Canada is gearing up for the all-important World Championships that make a triumphant return to Halifax in March.
“I think we are a group that always push ourselves to be better,” admitted Saulnier.
“I think that’s something that makes this team so unique that in a high pressure situation that we are all such supporters of each other as well and I think that the united atmosphere we create for ourselves is amazing.”
“I think that’s what really showcases our talents on the ice.”
Turnbull believes games like this one will definitely leave a lasting legacy on the game in this region.
“For the girls that are going to be at our game, I really hope their mentality shifts for them and that they see they have an opportunity to play hockey at this level.”
The roles have reversed for Sauliner and Turnbull since their 2004 experience.
How does she feel about being a role model for the next generation of young aspiring women in the game?
“It’s kind of funny to think about and I think it’s hard when you’re playing to really picture yourself in that position,” confessed Turnbull.
“We take great pride in that and it’s a true honour to be able to have little kids look up to you and want to be just like you someday.”
“It’s something we don’t take for granted and something we are really proud of.”
As a young girl Turnbull always aspired to play at the highest level.
That’s what makes her and Sauliner’s journey so special.
“As a young kid I always wanted to play at this level, but as I got older and older it realized how hard it was to make the teams.”
Turnbull’s faced some adversity after being cut from the Under 18 Program.
At that time she thought her Team Canada experience had ended
“After being cut I never thought I would ever play on the senior team, so it’s pretty amazing that I’m here today able to play at home in so many friends and family wearing the Team Canada jersey.”
“It’s been great,” Turnbull said of sharing the Team Canada journey with Sauliner.
“Jill and I played hockey together when we were little girls so for us to be playing together on the national team is pretty surreal to think how far we have come together, it’s been a lot fun and we are best friends and it’s been a special journey to experience together.”
On the topic of inspiration, who did Jill Saulnier look up to and idolize on her journey in the game?
“It’s no secret that your family is a huge support base and it’s no secret that my brother has also been a big inspiration for me along my journey.”
It goes without saying that Saulnier was also inspired by some of the games greats like Hayley Wickenheiser and Cassie Campbell.
“When I was younger I was obsessed with Hayley and Cassie.”
“I had the opportunity to be actually on a line with “Wick” with the national team so that was a pretty special experience,” admitted Saulnier.
“They were both good role models for me, so it’s been pretty awesome.”
Campbell-Pascal is coming down to Moncton and is still involved with Team Canada in an advisory role.
“Cassie is making her way down here as well and she’s just an incredible leader.”
“It’s incredibly humbling,” Saulnier said of being considered today as a role model for other young girls in love with the game.
“Everyday we come to the rink is such an honour, it’s such an honour to wear the leaf. I really hope that I can inspire young girls to chase their dreams as well.”
“I think it’s so important,” said Team Canada Associate Coach Troy Ryan of the impact that a game like this will have on women’s hockey.
“I specifically look at Jill and Blayre the last time the World Championships were in Halifax, they were just two young girls that got complimentary tickets from their school sitting in the upper bowl of the old Metro Centre watching the games.”
“That was the first time for them that they thought that girls can play international hockey and represent their country and that was their motivation to invest a little more and spend more time training,” explained Ryan.
“Any time you have the opportunity to play in front of a bunch of young players I think it’s a great experience.”
Ryan has received over a hundred messages from all over the Maritimes ahead of the Rivalry Series game.
“I’m so excited,” Ryan said to hear from so many teams and people.
“People are going to be taking buses from PEI and coming in from Halifax to watch the game. You don’t know who you are going to touch, but you are definitely going to motivate some young players to play the game or take their game to the next level.”
Obviously, Ryan’s journey in the coaching world has deep connections here in the Maritimes as well.
From the Maritime Junior “A” ranks to the U Sport’s the time in this region has definitely played a massive role in shaping his career behind the bench.
“My time in the AUS and Junior A has definitely helped me in this moment,” Ryan said.
“I’ve loved it, I have enjoyed every moment of it,” Ryan said of his role with Hockey Canada.
“Anybody that gets an opportunity to work for Hockey Canada it’s a privilege. I’m getting older now, but I pinch myself every day that I get an opportunity to be involved in the game at the Hockey Canada level is huge.”
What does it mean to Ryan to coach at this level in this region at the brand new Avenir Centre?
“It’s incredible, this building is state of the art,” Ryan said.
“We have been in a lot of NHL buildings and this matches up with any of them that we have been in.”
“It’s special anytime you can share your experiences with friends and family so I’m really excited about the game,” Ryan added.
Ryan and the entire Canadian staff is using the Rivalry Series as invaluable assessment tool for the World Championships, but understands the impact an event like that can have on the community.
“I think it’s huge for the community,” Ryan said.
“I know Amy Walsh at Hockey Nova Scotia and Carrie Cussons the Chair for the World’s are going to do an unbelievable job.”
“I think events come and they go and it’s going to be exciting for the city, but the legacy from the event will be felt for years.”
“I believe people are still feeling the legacy of the 2003 World Juniors and 2004 Women’s World Championship and the economic benefits for the game and the events legacy will be felt for years to come in Atlantic Canada.”
Three amazing Maritime hockey journeys that all started with a dream and an opportunity.
Some things are larger the game.
Saulnier, Turnbull and Ryan continue to build a lasting legacy for the game, and a legacy to inspire the next generation of young girls from the Maritimes to believe anything is possible in the game.