Sitting in the stands and watching their female heroes wheeling around the ice, Blayre Turnbull and Jill Saulnier looked on in awe.
And then to see the Canadian women’s team actually hoist the world trophy? Well, that’s the stuff dreams are made of.
Turnbull of Stellarton was 11 and Saulnier of Halifax was 12 when the hockey teammates sat in the stands watching that women’s world championship tournament in Halifax in 2004.
“I remember watching them win gold and Blayre on my right and we got to meet some of the players and see them. I think it’s so important for the young girls that play and, for any athlete at that age, to realize you can actually watch these girls live out the dreams we have,” Saulnier said.
Speaking at the Rath-Eastlink Community Centre (RECC) during a recent announcement that the 2020 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship will be played in Truro and Halifax, Saulnier used her own recollections to inspire some young girls sitting in front of her.
“We were there, and we were actually there together because we were teammates at the time,” she said. “It was pretty special and it was pretty empowering too.
“So it was very inspiring to be there and definitely a huge turning point in my career, for what I wanted to do in regards to wearing the maple leaf.”
Saulnier and Turnbull went on to achieve their dreams of playing at the national level and both remain members of Canada’s women’s team.
The pair also said they believe having the 2020 world women’s championship played in Nova Scotia will offer the same inspiration to today’s young players as it did with them.
“I think it’s going to be really good for the women’s game,” Saulnier said.
“It’s really special,” Turnbull added. “I think it’s going to be great for our province and great for communities like Truro and Halifax and the surrounding areas to know what it’s like to experience world-class women’s hockey first hand. So, it’s going to be great for the communities and great for the young girls who are aspiring to play at the national level.”
During those games in 2004, there were just over 1,000 girls playing organized hockey in Nova Scotia.
“We’re now up over 2,200 young girls playing hockey in Nova Scotia,” Hockey Canada representative Dean McIntosh said, during the announcement.
But by 2022, he added, the goal is to have more than 4,000 girls playing hockey in the province.
Both Turnbull and Saulnier agreed having the 2020 world tournament played in Nova Scotia will help drive up those numbers.
Young players look forward to seeing world’s best
At age 13, Willa Evans of Truro and Baillie Griffon of East Mountain are just slightly older than Jill Saulnier and Blayre Turnbull were when they watched the 2004 championships being played in Halifax.
Both girls began playing hockey at age five and are currently teammates with the Fundy Highland Bantam AA Subway Selects team out of Pictou County. They have both also benefited in the past from Turnbull’s experience during hockey schools she helped conduct and both were on hand to hear Turnbull and Saulnier speak during the announcement at the RECC.
They also are eagerly looking forward to attending the games in 2020.
“I think this event will be a great experience for young girls to learn that hard work pays off,” Griffon said.
That will certainly be amplified if Turnbull and Saulnier both make the 2020 national team other young female players can get to see two Nova Scotian women representing their country and playing at an international level.
“It is going to be a great experience for girls’ hockey and Nova Scotia,” Evans added. “Because girls’ hockey is just getting started and I think it is going to be a great opportunity to kickstart girls’ hockey for younger girls.”
Thinking back to the 2004 games, Saulnier said that is precisely how she and Turnbull felt watching their mentors of the day collecting their gold medals.
“I think mainly because we saw just how good the women could be,” she said. “Growing up in Nova scotia we weren’t really exposed to that. So for us to actually witness that and see how good the world-class athletes actually are and to show us that dream was kind of available to chase if you wanted to, it was just great exposure for us.”
“Our dream as young hockey players was to get to wear the maple leaf,” Saulnier said. “And we got to see the girls on TV do that but when you get to see it live and you get to see the girls who have the same dream as you play hockey right in front of your eyes and live that dream out, it’s pretty inspiring.”