Alittle time to reflect is giving Jillian Saulnier a real appreciation for her Olympic silver lining.
During a phone interview from South Korea a few days after Canada’s difficult 3-2 loss to the United States in the women’s hockey gold medal game, you get the sense the Halifax native is coming to peace with the outcome and embracing her silver medal.
“When you’re playing in that game your sights are set on gold, so to lose that is tough in the moment,” she said. “But as time’s gone on we do appreciate (the silver) and all the effort that our team put forth. We are really proud of our team and the performance that we had.
“To work so hard for something your whole life and finally be able to sit here and reflect on the whole experience, it’s very emotional. It’s something I wouldn’t trade for the whole world.”
As crushing as the shootout loss felt from afar for Canadians watching on TV, Saulnier said the disappointment was obviously much more acute in person. But she said the players vowed not to dwell on the tournament’s shootout format and the devastating way the gold slipped through their fingers. “Of course it’s a very emotional way to lose,” she said. “But the Olympics are an emotional rollercoaster in the best way possible. You’re playing with and against the best athletes in the world, so to come down to a shootout to determine the gold medal and come up short was tough. But we’re really proud of the girls and the performance we put on.”
Saulnier, 25, and Stellarton’s Blayre Turnbull, 24, are the first Nova Scotian women ever to play hockey for Canada at the Olympics.
Both are forwards and contributed offensively at the tournament. Saulnier had a goal and an assist and Turnbull recorded three assists, including one in the gold medal game.
“I’m so humbled to share this experience with her. She’s amazing,” Saulnier said. “It’s so awesome to be able to feel the support from home, especially coming from the young girls who play hockey and have dreams. If anything, Blayre and I are just living proof that it can happen for anyone who dreams big.”
But before coming home, Saulnier said she wanted to make an effort to soak up everything she could about the Olympic experience. As Saulnier conducted the phone interview, she kept an eye on the big air snowboarding competition playing out next to her.
“We didn’t have a ton of chances to see other events earlier on,” she said. “We did try to get out to some in the middle of everything but with hockey, it starts pretty early (in the Games) and it ends pretty late, so we were committed to our plan that whole time. Our focus was obviously in the rink for that time. But now that we’re done we’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the other athletes and go support them in their events.
“It’s been cool, not only just being together as a hockey team but you really do feel part of a bigger team. You see everyone walking around with their country’s jacket on and being able to experience this whole journey with athletes from across Canada and from all over the world has been really, really cool.”
Likewise, Saulnier said, there wasn’t much time to explore Pyeongchang during the Games but the women’s hockey players did get to experience South Korean culture before the official start of the event.
“We came here about two weeks early and stayed in Seoul, just to prepare and get used to the time change,” she said. “When we were there we had some opportunities to kind of get immersed in the culture and see Seoul. It’s been a really eye-opening experience.
“We had the opportunity to try a Korean barbecue and that was really cool. We did that as a team and that was quite different. It’s very busy over here. There are a lot of people everywhere so it’s a bumping spot, for sure, but fun to be a part of.”
And, not surprisingly, Saulnier said she and her teammates have been inundated with positive messages from fans across Canada the entire time they’ve been away.
“The support that we’ve received, not just individually but as a team, has been so overwhelming. Canada is the best country in the world to represent. The love and support we’ve received throughout the whole Games, and even after that final game, has been absolutely amazing. I’m really excited to get back to Nova Scotia and share this experience with everyone back there.”