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Pushing for opportunities

With the start of a new Olympic cycle, Fall Festival is a chance for young players to make their mark as they compete for a spot on Canada’s National Women’s Team

Katie Brickman
September 14, 2018

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 Willoughby.

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 came.”

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 their game.

“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 chapter.”

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.

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

[email protected] 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

[email protected]

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

[email protected]

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