An award of The USA Hockey Foundation, the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award is presented annually to the top player in NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey.
Cornell University forward Jillian Saulnier is known for her offensive skills, and she’s OK with that.
In fact, when talking about her game, the senior from Nova Scotia — who led the nation last season at 1.65 points per game — jokes about her offensive zeal.
“I am a bit of a dog, just trying to chase the puck and get it in the offensive zone,” she said, laughing. “I would be lying to you if I didn’t say I like the offensive zone more than the defensive zone.”
Last season, she certainly did more than just chase the puck. She also controlled it, passed it and put it in the net. She was fourth in the nation in points with 56, scoring 28 goals in 34 games. She helped the Big Red go 24-6-4, win the ECAC championship and get to the NCAA Tournament. She was named a first-team All-American and a top-three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award as the nation’s best player.
Yet this season her numbers are down a bit.
In 15 games, Saulnier is averaging 1.27 points per game, with six goals and 13 assists for Cornell, which is 10-7-3.
Part of that can be attributed to the bounce of the puck. Sometimes it doesn’t go where it’s directed. Another factor is a few missed games, including time in early November with the Canadian national team at the Four Nations Cup.
Also, Saulnier — who was mostly at center last season — was moved to left wing and placed on the same line as standouts Brianne Jenner and Emily Fulton around Thanksgiving. Putting all three on the same line proved to be a catalyst. The team has been much better ever since.
Last season, with Jenner on the Canadian national team that won a gold medal at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games, the team needed Saulnier to score more. This season, with Jenner back and Fulton also an outstanding threat, Saulnier can play a different role.
The trio has meshed well, and Jenner and Fulton are scoring at a high rate. Jenner is tied for 15th in the nation with 28 points (10 goals) and Fulton is tied for 27th with 24 points (10 goals). And, after a 3-6 start, Cornell didn’t lose a game from Nov. 22 until Jan. 24.
All three are seniors, have played on the same lines together before and help one another.
“They’re really great players, and one of the great things with playing with such talented players is that we’re all different, and we all bring something different and unique to the line and complement one another,” Saulnier said.
She said she and Jenner — her good friend and roommate — “laugh because we just know what each other is doing all the time now. Things just click and work together, and when they do, it becomes a lot of fun for sure.”
But aside from Saulnier’s contributions on offense, there’s another side to her game that’s also paying big dividends this season. She’s spent more time in recent years working on her defense and trying to be more of an all-around contributor.
She now is perhaps the team’s best two-way player, has been a fierce backchecker and leads the team in plus-minus rating with a plus-13. She says her defensive responsibilities come first.
“My goal every game is to not be on the ice for a goal against us,” she said. “And fortunately we’ve been pretty successful with that.”
While her offensive numbers may be down, she’s getting tremendous satisfaction from being a more complete player.
“Over the past few years I’ve developed myself as a player to focus on the defensive zone and ensure that I’m doing the right things instead of just flying around out there,” she said.
She’s even taking joy in blocking shots.
“Not many people love blocking the puck, but I just love jumping in front of a puck like that, doing that kind of stuff,” she said. “Obviously there are no numbers in that aspect, but it’s definitely a very important part of my game now for sure.”
Saulnier, who grew up in a hockey family, picked up the game when she was 5 or 6 and recalls years of playing the game on their backyard rink or in the street or the basement with mini sticks.
So it was a thrill for her in November when she played her first games with the Canadian senior national team in the Four Nations Cup in Kamloops, B.C. She had extensive experience and success in the Under-18 and Under-22 programs, but she said getting the chance to wear the Maple Leaf, play with Olympic veterans and win the championship in front of thousands of fans was a joy.
She called it a “turning point” in her career. It gave her confidence (she scored a goal in four games) and “a taste of what the senior program is like.”
“It was a dream-come-true opportunity,” she said. “It was great to bring that back [to Cornell]. It fueled the tank for sure and opened my eyes to how exciting it is and how much I want that opportunity again.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Saturday, March 21, 2015
McNamara Alumni Center- University of Minnesota
10:30 a.m. – noon