Kaitlin Willoughby may be attending her first Fall Festival, but the
forward is feeling confident and ready to show what she can do.
“This is my first time being invited and its feels amazing,” said
The 24-year-old from Prince Albert, Sask., is one of the 59 players invited
to attend the annual National Women’s Team training camp, aimed at helping
develop and evaluate the top female athletes in the country.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but my confidence level is high. I was
invited here for a reason and I need to showcase my skills,” said
Willoughby. “As a younger player, it is intimidating, but I want to take in
this experience and leave this place a better hockey player than when I
Fall Festival runs until Sept. 16 in Dawson Creek, B.C., where the
players are spilt into two squads – Red and White – to train and
compete against each other and a pair of local teams.
The camp is a great way for players of different experience to come
together and compete against each other.
“I’ve been to a number of Fall Festivals now and it is a good time of year,
as it is a refresh for everyone,” said forward Jill Saulnier. “Coming into
it, it is about doing our best and trying to meet all the new faces that
are here. This is the first step in growing as a team and program.”
With 17 players from the Olympic silver medal-winning team from PyeongChang
attending, many of the younger players like Willoughby and Victoria Bach
are interested in tapping into the knowledge of those veterans to improve
“Every opportunity to go to the Fall Festival is a huge honour. Every year,
this is a building block for the season and playing against the best of the
best in Canada. A lot the girls on the ice are people I look up to and I
can learn so much here,” said Bach. “I went into this event with an open
mind and to have fun, make the most of it and learn something new every day
that I can take back with me this season.”
As high as the intensity gets on the ice, the comradery and friendship
built off the ice is what Olympic silver-medallist Saulnier enjoys about
the annual camp.
“There is always a healthy rivalry and the play is intense,” she said. “At
the end of the day, we are so good at competing against each other because
we want to make each other better. It is a fun week, but it is competitive
… that’s why we play the sport.”
The event this year strikes the beginning of the new Olympic cycle and jobs
are up for grabs as some players take some time off for personal reasons.
Saulnier sees the Festival as a fresh start for the season and the ability
for the players to grow as team.
“This is a great time to get the tempo up, meet the new girls and learn
from each other,” she said.
The opportunities to learn are endless as the coaching staff and players
bring new ideas, techniques and strategy to the ice.
“No player has all the knowledge, so it is great to learn from amazing
skills coaches and staff. I am always learning from the girls beside me,
whether they are a three-time Olympian or a rookie. There is always an
opportunity to learn and grow,” explained Saulnier. “Hockey Canada puts a
high emphasis on excellence and making sure that we are the best that we
can be, so there is always room for growth. For me, every time I come here,
that is what I am looking to do.”
The camp is just over a week long and the players are using this
opportunity to put in some extra conditioning and training before heading
to their respective teams.
For Bach, she will be heading to Markham with hopes of cracking the roster with the Thunder, the defending Canadian Women's Hockey League champions.
“I know I am just graduating, and it will be an adjustment going into the
CWHL, but I think playing in this event against the best, it will prepare
me for the season,” Bach said. “I am excited for that challenge and new
Saulnier is changing locations this season as she heads to Montreal from
Calgary to lace up with Les Canadiennes.
“After this camp, I will fly back home to Halifax, jump in my car and head
to Montreal for camp,” said Saulnier. “They have such an amazing
organization and it is a fresh start for me. I am excited to go there and
meet the squad and start playing games as a member of Les Canadiennes.”
Willoughby will have a busy season in front of her as she wraps up her
final eight months of nursing at the University of Saskatchewan in
Saskatoon as well as trying to make the Calgary Inferno roster.
“I will be travelling back and forth a lot this season as I finish up my
schooling,” said Willoughby. “I have spoken with the coaching staff and
hope to make most of the games.”
The players also have their focus on two major events this year. Canada’s
National Women’s Team will face off against Finland, Sweden and the United
States at the 2018 4 Nations Cup in Saskatoon from Nov. 6 -10, and the 2019
IIHF Women’s World Championship runs April 4-14 in Finland.