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Metroland file photo

Metroland file photo

Laura Fortino displays her gold medal at Pearson Airport. John Rennison The Hamilton Spectator 2/25/14

Sabres program helped shape Olympic dream

Gold medalists Fortino, Jenner reflect on formative years in Stoney Creek

By Laura Lennie, News Staff

Two Canadian women’s hockey team players are giving props to the Stoney Creek Junior Sabres program and its founder after their Olympic gold medal victory over the United States in Sochi.

Defenceman Laura Fortino and forward Brianne Jenner say the three seasons they spent with the Junior Sabres under former head coach Diane Boles in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League helped open the door toward international and personal glory.

“The program was very beneficial to me both on and off the ice. I was very fortunate to have been able to be under the guidance of Diane,” said Fortino, who played from 2006 to 2009. “She helped me become not only a better player, but also a more well-rounded, mature athlete and person. Diane opened the doors for me for scholarships and helped guide me down the right path for my career and future.”

Jenner, who played from 2005 to 2008, said she has “very fond memories” of her time with Stoney Creek.

“It was my first time playing with girls instead of boys and I loved the camaraderie I had with my teammates,” she said. “I learned a lot my first year from my coach (Boles) about playing in a high-level league. The PWHL is a very strong league and it gave me a taste of the talent and competition I would face if I was to make a push for Team Canada.”

Fortino, a 23-year-old Bishop Tonnos Catholic Secondary School graduate, and Jenner, a 22-year-old from Oakville, played instrumental roles in the Canadian women’s hockey team’s come-from-behind 3-2 win over the United States on Feb. 20.

Fortino assisted on Marie-Philp Poulin’s golden goal in overtime, while Jenner scored Canada’s first goal late in the third period to ignite the team’s comeback.

The win secured Canada’s fourth straight Olympic gold medal.

Fortino said it was an honour and privilege to represent the nation at the Olympics.

“It was such an incredible experience and a moment in my life I will cherish forever,” she said. “I was very fortunate to have had the coaching staff believe in me and have confidence in me as a player to be put on the ice at that moment in the game. I was just playing off my instincts and knew the right play was to pass it over to Poulin for the wide open net.”

Jenner said the experience was “unforgettable.”

“I’ve always dreamed of playing for Canada at the Olympics,” she said. “The experience lived up to my expectations. It was especially amazing to see all the support we were getting from Canadians in Russia and back home.”

When Fortino, Jenner and other players returned home last Tuesday, they were greeted by family, friends and a swarm of media at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

“It felt absolutely amazing to walk through the doors and see everyone so excited to greet us and congratulate us all,” Fortino said. “The best part was seeing my mom, grandmother and aunt waiting there for me with open arms. It was certainly a special moment for me as they are a huge part of my success.”

Jenner said she was “shocked” by the amount of media that made the trip to the airport.

“I think it’s great that our country gets behind its Olympic athletes,” she said. “We have such a big support system. It was nice for the travel to finally be over and to be able to go home for a home-cooked meal with my family.”

Fortino said her life has been “pretty hectic” since returning home, but she feels humbled by the fact that so many people want to hear about her experience.

“I have been mainly spending time with family and friends and sharing the medal with them, conducting various interviews and also flying out to NHL games to be honoured and recognized alongside my other teammates,” she said. “To become an Olympic gold medalist is something I have worked for and dedicated my entire life to. To now finally say I have accomplished my dream is such an incredible feeling.”

Jenner said she hopes the performance the team put on and the way it carried itself at the Olympics has not only inspired Canadians, but also made them want to watch more women’s hockey.

“We have a great league in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, where a large number of our Olympians play every year,” she said. “The high-calibre hockey is there for Canadians to enjoy and not just in the Olympic years. Hopefully, we have grabbed some people’s attention and created some new fans.”

During their three seasons with the Stoney Creek Junior Sabres, Fortino and Jenner helped lead the team to gold and bronze medals at the PWHL championships, as well as two gold medals at the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association provincial championships.

Both players 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 with the Big Red women’s ice hockey team.

Fortino, who graduated from the university with a degree in nutritional sciences last year, is looking forward to doing a master’s program and furthering her education

Jenner will play another season at the Ivy League University with the Big Red and finish off her degree next year.

Both Fortino and Jenner also are looking to accomplish one other thing.

“My goal is to play for Canada at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games,” Fortino said. “I am going to continue playing hockey and will play for a women’s team in the CWHL.”

“I think at this point playing for the nation in the next Olympics is something that I would love to work towards,” Jenner said. “A lot can happen in four years, though, and I know as a player in this program you have to work extremely hard to keep your spot.”

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