Nurse an­swers Canada’s call

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SCOTT RADLEY

By the time she’d wrapped her se­nior year on the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin women’s hockey team, she was kind of a big deal around cam­pus. Not only were her num­bers in that fi­nal sea­son ter­rific but the Bad­gers made it to the NCAA cham­pi­onship game. So, it wasn’t un­com­mon for peo­ple at school to stop her and chat about the team and the sport.

It’s just that what they chose to talk about was tough. “They mean well but they al­ways bring up that game,” Sarah Nurse says, rue­fully.

Her team lost that cham­pi­onship. Af­ter los­ing just three games all sea­son and win­ning both the reg­u­lar sea­son and con­fer­ence cham­pi­onships en route to 33 to­tal vic­to­ries, they dropped that last game 3-0 to Clark­son.

Weeks later, it still st­ings. This was her last shot at a ti­tle and now it’s gone.

So the call from Hockey Canada telling her she’d been se­lected to be part of the Olympic team ros­ter was a rather nice con­so­la­tion prize.

Twenty-eight women have been cho­sen to move to Cal­gary in Au­gust — to cen­tral­ize, in women’s hockey lan­guage — to get ready for Pyeongchang.

Among them are Team Canada vet­eran Laura Fortino of An­caster, Burling­ton’s Re­nata Fast who cracked the ros­ter for the re­cent world cham­pi­onships, and Nurse.

Of course, that num­ber is a lit­tle mis­lead­ing. There won’t be 28 women go­ing to the Games, just 23.

Which means this is re­ally a months-long try­out. Five play­ers will lit­er­ally spend half a year pre­par­ing for some­thing that never hap­pens for them.

And the list of those com­pet­ing not to be that un­lucky hand­ful is filled with rec­og­niz­able names.

Four­teen of them won gold at Sochi.

It’s go­ing to be a dif­fi­cult lineup to make, in other words.

“I think it’s kind of mo­ti­va­tion,” the 22-year-old says. “You can’t be com­pla­cent and you can’t be happy to be there.”

No, she has to be great. Ac­tu­ally, great isn’t enough. She wants to be ex­cep­tional. That’s a lit­tle some­thing her dad has told her for as long as she can re­mem­ber. Even when things are go­ing well, aim higher.

It’s a tall or­der but there’s rea­son to be­lieve she has a great chance of be­ing on the plane to South Korea in Fe­bru­ary.

The Bishop Ton­nos grad scored 25 goals and had 28 as­sists in just 39 games played for Wis­con­sin this sea­son — that pro­duc­tion was good for sev­enth-best in the coun­try — post­ing a plus-42 rat­ing. This was all done while hav­ing to find time to study, as well.

She grad­u­ated on the week­end with her de­gree in mar­ket­ing so this will be the first time she’s ever been able to con­cen­trate solely on hockey. Or hah-key as she pro­nounces it now, hav­ing picked up a lit­tle Wis­con­son-ese in four years away from home. “I do?” she laughs. Yes, a lit­tle. Plus, she’s been here be­fore. Two years ago, she skated for the na­tional team in the Four Na­tions Cup where Canada took sil­ver.

But the Olympics? “This is some­thing I’ve wanted to do for years and years and years now,” she says.

She started think­ing about this when she was about 14. Play­ing un­der the rings is the ab­so­lute top of the moun­tain for fe­male hockey play­ers in this coun­try. There is no big­ger stage or brighter spot­light. Skate in the Olympics and you’re un­ques­tion­ably one of the best ever.

There’s some­thing else here, of course.

You may have no­ticed her last name. If she makes the squad she’ll add another en­try to the grow­ing leg­end of this city’s dom­i­nant sports fam­ily.

Nurse is the sis­ter of Hamil­ton Bull­dogs for­ward, Isaac, and Soo Grey­hounds draft pick, Eli­jah. She’s the cousin of Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers’ de­fence­man, Dar­nell, Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut and Team Canada bas­ket­ball star, Kia, and for­mer Univer­sity of Ore­gon point guard Tamika. She’s the niece of for­mer NCAA bas­ket­ball star Raquel and of long­time NFL quar­ter­back, Dono­van McNabb.

We could go on. There’s more. But you get the idea. They’ve all done amaz­ing things. None, how­ever, has won an Olympic medal. Even for a fam­ily that has more hard­ware than it can dis­play, that would be a con­ver­sa­tion-starter at the next fam­ily din­ner.

“I think there’s kind of a mis­con­cep­tion about our fam­ily that that’s all we talk about when we get to­gether,” Nurse chuck­les.

Fair enough. But pull out a medal a few months from now and they just might.

sradley@thes­ 905-526-2440 | @radley­atthes­pec Spec­ta­tor columnist Scott Radley hosts The Scott Radley Show weeknights 7-9 on 900CHML.


Wis­con­sin for­ward Sarah Nurse reaches for the puck on a short-handed break­away op­por­tu­nity against Clark­son in the NCAA cham­pi­onship March 19.

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