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Hamilton Spectator file photo

Hamilton Spectator file photo

Laura Fortino played with the Stoney Creek Junior Sabres, as did Brianne Jenner. The pair also played together at Cornell.

Stoney Creek’s golden connection

Jenner, Fortino honed their craft with the Junior Sabres

By Laura Lennie, News Staff

The founder of the Stoney Creek Junior Sabres feels like a “proud mama” after seeing two of her former players play instrumental roles in the Canadian women’s hockey team’s Olympic gold medal victory over the United States in Sochi.

Diane Boles said forward Brianne Jenner’s goal late in the third period ignited Canada’s comeback, while defenceman Laura Fortino’s assist on the winner in overtime was a selfless play that helped seal the team’s fate.

“When Jenner scored, it wasn’t about personal celebration, it was about rallying her teammates as if to say, ‘OK, here we are.’ When Fortino assisted on the winner, she had had many opportunities before that where she could have shot the puck, so it was just a heads-up, disciplined play and that’s all there is to it,” she said. “They worked hard. I don’t think anybody really understands what they had to give up and the work that they’ve had to do to get to that one moment. It was well-deserved and well-earned.”

The U.S. took a 2-0 lead two minutes into the third period last Thursday.

Jenner’s goal came at the 16:34 mark, when she fired a shot that deflected off a defender and over the U.S. goalie’s glove into the net.

The red and white continued to push for the equalizer. Marie-Philip Poulin tied the game with less than a minute left in regulation time with netminder Shannon Szabados on the bench for an extra skater.

Fortino picked up the biggest assist of her life at the 8:10 mark of overtime on the powerplay, when she shoveled a pass to Poulin, who then snapped a shot over the U.S. goaltender’s shoulder and into the net to secure Canada’s 3-2 win and fourth straight Olympic gold medal.

Jenner’s goal and Fortino’s assist were the first points for both players in their Winter Games debut.

Canada headed into the gold medal game with a perfect record. The U.S. went into the matchup having suffered its only loss to Canada during the preliminary round.

Boles said playing for Canada at the Olympics is a dream shared by many young athletes.

“But to say it and to actually do the work to get there are two different things. Neither one of them (Jenner or Fortino) were wannabes,” she said. “They were, ‘This is what I want and I know I have to work for it’ and they did. They’re young women who have achieved the pinnacle of success in their sport and neither one of them have cracked 25 (years of age) yet – that’s pretty amazing.”

Boles started the Stoney Creek Junior Sabres program in 2000. She was the head coach of the team for almost 10 years.

Jenner, a 22-year-old from Oakville, and Fortino, a 23-year-old Bishop Tonnos Catholic Secondary School graduate, played three seasons with the Junior Sabres in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League under Boles’ leadership. Jenner held her position on the Sabres from 2005 to 2008, while Fortino spent her time on the team from 2006 to 2009.

Both players helped lead the Sabres to gold and bronze medals at the PWHL championships, as well as two gold medals at the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association provincial championships.

Boles said Jenner and Fortino were about 15 years old when they began their run with the Sabres.

They had “very good individual skill sets” for their age group, she added.

“You just watch them go from sneakers to high heels in maturity on the ice and obviously in the classroom and in all aspects of their life. With so many stresses today I think on young people, it really shows strength of character for any athlete to be able to stay the course,” Boles said. “You have to be pretty self-directed and they both are. They came in as good players and hopefully left as better players and that’s all you can ask for as a volunteer coach.”

Jenner and Fortino went on to hold positions on the Ontario under-18, Hockey Canada under-18 and under-22 squads, before making the senior national team.

They also played together for four years at Cornell University.

Boles said she couldn’t be more proud of her former Sabres players’ performance on and off the ice.

The Jenner-Fortino show is far from over, she added.

“They’ve worked hard. They have a great future and not only in their sport,” Boles said. “They’ve played and studied at an Ivy League university – with Fortino graduating last year and Jenner graduating next year – and both come from great families. What better future could a young woman ask for?”

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