Already touted as a world-class ice hockey player, Jillian Saulnier has gained tremendous admiration for a very compassionate fundraising effort. Earning recognition as a hockey humanitarian and world-class person, her focus was on bringing comfort to a family of new Canadians whose lives were eternally disrupted. Juggling her obligations with the Canadian national team and competing professionally with Les Canadiennes de Montreal, also a participant at the 2019 CWHL All-Star Game, she took time before the Clarkson Cup Finals to return to her hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia in the name of this very heartwarming cause.
Hosted at Bedford, Nova Scotia’s BMO Centre, Barho Charity Hockey Day was highlighted by a Charity Hockey Game featuring Jillian Saulnier and Friends. Including a family skate and a moment of silence prior to opening faceoff, an online silent auction represented a key aspect of the fundraising effort. Consisting of over 100 items, it was highlighted by signed memorabilia from the likes of women’s hockey luminaries Hayley Wickenheiser and Cassie Campbell-Pascall, along with signed jerseys from Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon, and a book autographed by Wayne Gretzky. In addition, there were even ticket packages for numerous events, including the 2020 IIHF Women’s Worlds, Clarkson Cup weekend plus the Memorial Cup tickets, with proceeds going to the Barho Family.
Having established roots in the Halifax area over the course of the last 18 months, the Barhos suffered what no family ever should. A devastating house fire that took place in the community of Spryfield on February 19 took the lives of their seven children, Abdullah, Rana, Hala, Ola, Mohamad, Rola and Ahmad, a disastrous event that quickly made national news. Having emigrated to Canada from the war-ravaged nation of Syria, the Barho family was looking for a new life in Atlantic Canada, putting behind them a haunting past.
Upon hearing of this tragic news, Saulnier was motivated to find an empathic way to give back. In order to assemble such an amazing event in a short time span, a unique coincidence led to compelling circumstance. The collaborative efforts of Kevin Rimmer and his daughter Stacie embodied the feeling of teamwork. Of note, Kevin was one of the first people that Saulnier conversed with, and he was a tremendous source of encouragement.
Stacie once attended the summer hockey camp run by Saulnier and Stellarton, Nova Scotia native Blayre Turnbull. Although Turnbull, who called Saulnier her teammate at the 2018 Winter Games was unable to make the trek cross country, calling the Calgary Inferno her club team, she was highly inspired by the feeling of community and comfort. With a career in sports management, Stacie was the catalyst in helping to organize the event, paying attention to the details that helped make Barho Charity Hockey Day run efficiently and successfully.
Although the Barhos did not have a hockey affiliation, Saulnier observed the local perspective, finding a connection in community, one which set an essential tone on this day defined by a combination of sympathy and determination. With competitors from local university teams and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, along with various donors, there was also a strong personal connection on-ice for Saulnier.
Playing this season for Sweden’s Morrums GolS in Division I play, Saulnier’s brother Brennan crossed the Atlantic with teammates for this event. While the number of women gracing the ice included her former teammates from the Cornell Big Red, where she captured Ivy League Rookie of the Year Honors in 2012 plus First-Team All-America nods in 2014, amassing 195 collegiate points, was joined by with Fiona Smith-Bell, a member of Canada’s contingent in women’s ice hockey at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games. A post-game autograph session allowed fans and donors a chance to meet Saulnier and other participants.
With members of ISANS “New to Hockey” joining Saulnier on the red carpet during the pre-game ceremony, there was another visual element that served as an important reminder of why these tremendous hockey humanitarians were participating. All players were garbed in jerseys with the logos of local fire departments, a unique way to pay tribute to the brave first responders on the scene of the blaze.
In a matter of two weeks, an impressive sum of $30,000 was raised for the Barho family. Complmeneted by an inspiring outpouring of support on social media by individuals, athletes and organizations from both sides of the border, a collective display of kindness during a difficult time. Employing an enthusiasm that provided an emotional benefit for all involved, facing adversity with unity, the legacy of the Barho Charity Hockey Day may stand as Saulnier’s defining moment.
Taking into account that this event was held the week before the Clarkson Cup Finals, which sees Saulnier take to the ice at Toronto’s Coca-Cola Centre with Les Canadiennes de Montreal, where she registered 29 regular season points and earned a spot in the CWHL All-Star Game, and two weeks before travelling overseas for the IIHF Women’s Worlds in Espoo, Finland, the fact that Saulnier sacrificed her only free weekend before this demanding time in order to help others reflects a superlative character. Indicative of what a remarkable person she truly is, Saulnier has evolved from elite athlete and fan favorite to an altruistic advocate and devotee of community, the type of role model that others in the community can aspire for their children to become.