Of all the clubs in the 2015 Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) Draft, no team was able to match the world-class caliber of players that the Calgary Inferno acquired in the first three rounds. Starting with high-scoring Brianne Jenner in the first round (fourth overall), followed by four-time Winter Games gold medalist Hayley Wickenheiser was their second pick and rising star Jillian Saulnier, the 2012 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, represented the third round selection.
Adding to the momentum of such a remarkable draft class for the Inferno is the fact that Jenner and Saulnier were teammates for the Cornell Big Red in NCAA play. During the 2014-15 campaign, Saulnier contributed 44 points for the Big Red (giving her 195 for her career), including a season-high four-point performance on December 5, 2014. With Jenner, the two combined for 95 points in 2014-15, while contributing an accumulated 424 points over four sensational seasons, each earning All-America status.
Over the last two seasons, no NCAA program has seen as many of its players selected in the CWHL Draft as the Cornell Big Red. In the 2014 edition of the draft, three Big Red alums were among the top 25 picks, including eventual Clarkson Cup champion Alyssa Gagliardi. Of note, Calgary opted for Cornell talent twice, obtaining Hayleigh Cudmore and Jessica Campbell, the first ever rookie to serve as a captain in the CWHL All-Star game.
As Saulnier prepares for her inaugural season of CWHL hockey, the opportunity to be reunited with Jenner and Campbell should make the adjustment a much better experience. With their familiarity on the ice, it should also add to the anticipation of the season to come, possibly the greatest of the Inferno’s early existence.
During two seasons at Cornell in which all three were teammates, this remarkable trio was part of a nationally ranked program that won 57 games, compared to only 11 losses. As their storied careers intersect once again, Calgary hockey fans should get prepared to be spoiled. The Inferno are certainly hoping that their past on-ice success can be duplicated at the CWHL level, as they pursue their first Clarkson Cup in franchise history,
“Firstly, yes I am incredibly excited to be reunited with those girls once again. I actually lived with both Jessica and Brianne throughout my career at Cornell and became great friends with them. I will be living with Rebecca in Calgary, so the Cornell connection is certainly not lost! They are fantastic teammates and I am looking forward to another fun year of hockey with them as well as the new faces!”
Internationally, Saulnier has also enjoyed a remarkable career. Donning the Team Canada jersey, she was part of the roster that captured gold at the 2010 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, Canada’s first in that event. Coincidentally, Campbell was one of her teammates for that landmark triumph.
Having also played for Canada’s U22/Development Team, along with an appearance for the Canadian national team in a silver medal effort at the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds, becoming the first player born in Nova Scotia to do so, Saulnier may be among those to watch on the road to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.
Such momentum is complemented by the fact that her inaugural CWHL season shall provide her with the opportunity to compete among some of the world’s finest (each CWHL squad features at least one competitor from the 2014 Sochi Winter Games), only add another exciting new dimension to her promising career,
“I am certainly looking forward to playing with and against some of the best players in the world. This next chapter is definitely a chance to learn and grow as a hockey player both on and off the ice.”
Last season, the Calgary Inferno experienced a second place finish for the first time in franchise history. In addition, Rebecca Johnston (coincidentally, she also played for Cornell) became the first Inferno player to capture the Angela James Bowl, awarded to the league’s leading scorer, along with league MVP honors, respectively.
The arrival of first-year players such as Saulnier, Jenner and Wickenheiser should result in more offensive firepower for the Inferno. Of note, they shall be joining a team that already features a star-studded lineup of talent. Among them are the likes of 2014 CWHL Goaltender of the Year Delayne Brian, Bailey Bram, Jenna Cunningham, Brittany Esposito (the league’s leading scorer among Canadian-born rookies), two-time Winter Games gold medalist Haley Irwin and Jessica Wong.
Instantly, the club has been propelled into the Clarkson Cup discussion. Although Saulnier remains grounded about such speculation, displaying great maturity, there is no question that she brings great enthusiasm into the upcoming season, ready to provide the effort required to succeed.
“It definitely looks as though all of the teams in the CWHL have very strong rosters and will compete in every game to the last minute for a win. With that being said, it looks like the Inferno certainly has quite a depth of a roster so I am hoping that we will see success throughout the season as well.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”