The second overall pick in the 2018 CWHL Draft, Sarah Nurse has quickly transitioned into a franchise-type player, emerging as one of their brightest stars and leading scorers. Part of a celebrated sports family that are an integral facet of early 21st Century sporting Canadiana, Nurse has made significant contributions to their growing legacy.
Recording over 40 appearances at all three levels of Canada’s team, with the number 20 adorning the back of her jersey, she has captured gold medals at the 2013 IIHF Under-18 Women’s Worlds and the 2015 Nations Cup. Attaining Second Team All-American status in her senior season with the University of Wisconsin, said season saw her lead the NCAA in hat tricks, while appearing in the Frozen Four title game.
Currently, ranked as the third leading scorer among rookies, trailing Calgary’s Rebecca Leslie, and Victoria Bach, a member of the cross-town rival Markham Thunder, Nurse’s superlative skills have translated into revered status as a CWHL All-Star. Contested at Toronto’s Scotiabank Centre, formerly known as Air Canada Centre (ACC), the milestone of the All-Star Game is one that runs parallel to a remarkable achievement by her cousin Kia, both sharing a distinguished connection with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
A member of the Canadian national women’s basketball team, Kia led her team to a gold medal victory over their American rivals at Toronto’s 2015 Pan American Games. With an unprecedented victory that generated a tremendous feeling of national pride, Kia’s victory took place at Mattamy Athletic Centre, located inside the iconic Maple Leaf Gardens, home of the NHL’s Maple Leafs from 1931-1999. As a side note, Kia also shares the status of professional athlete of her cousin Sarah, currently competing with the WNBA’s New York Liberty.
Relocating to the ACC in 1999, the Maple Leafs have not only demonstrated a strong support for the female game, but their venue has served as the home for the first four editions of the CWHL All-Star Game. Coincidentally, Furies General Manager Sami Jo Small was part of the Canadian roster that participated in the first-ever women’s ice hockey contest at the ACC, which saw Canada best their American rivals in a January 2000 event dubbed the “TSN Challenge.”
For the pride of Ancaster, Ontario, the privilege of making her All-Star debut on NHL ice brought with it a surreal sense of awe and wonder. With competitive sport representing a significant part of her formative years, there was also an understandable interest in following the excitement and drama of sports at other levels. Catching the action of the Maple Leafs as the images on the television provided a visual to the ebbs and flows of the game, it only furthered her fascination.
Undeniably, the majesty of the venue, with its Stanley Cup banners and retired jerseys hanging from the rafters, has only been enriched by the opportunity for women of the game, such as Nurse, to participate on its frozen perimeter,
“It was a very cool experience. I grew up watching the Leafs play every week on TV and had never had the opportunity to play there. It was surreal looking up at all of the banners and being able to appreciate the history of the building and the Toronto Maple Leafs as a franchise. The Maple Leafs hosting the women’s All Star shows the growth and acceptance of our game.”
Prior to the All-Star break, Nurse assembled a solid body of work, providing a presence that's yielded highly positive dividends for the Toronto Furies. Such prodigy was evident from the season’s opening faceoff.
A three-game home stand versus the rebranded Shenzhen KRS Rays signified Nurse’s debut in the CWHL. Earning an assist in her first game, combining with Mackenzie MacNeil on Spooner’s first goal of the season, and the Furies first goal of the season, it marked the first of many more highlights to come in said season.
Just two games later, Nurse would record her first goal, breaking a 1-1 deadlock at the 8:54 mark of the third, as Brittany Howard and Emma Greco contributed their first points of the season. Capitalizing on a power play opportunity, Nurse achieved two milestones with one goal, as said goal also proved to be the game-winning tally
Before the holiday break, Nurse shifted into high gear, boasting a brilliant seven game scoring streak. Starting on November 17 with a two-point performance on home ice versus the Calgary Inferno, said streak culminated 28 days later, spanning nearly one month. Amassing an astounding 16 points, highlighted by a four fantastic points against Markham on November 25, Nurse clearly established herself as an All-Star in the making.
Certainly, gracing the ice at Scotiabank Centre for the fourth CWHL All-Star Game represented the latest chapter in what has proved to be an exciting yet whirlwind time over the last 12 months. Gaining a spot on Canada’s entry for women’s ice hockey at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, Nurse would make national news as her first goal in Games play was the game-winner in an intense 2-1 victory on February 15 versus archrival United States, as Gangneung’s Kwandong Hockey Centre served as the backdrop for this epic achievement.
Adding lustre to the prestige of a podium finish, as Canada reached the gold medal game in PyeongChang, was the fact that the Hockey Hall of Fame obtained her Team Canada jersey from the Games, along with Brigette Lacquette’s stick. Coincidentally, Lacquette would serve as the captain for Team Purple at the All-Star Game.
Worth noting, the Hall would also play a pivotal role in supplying Nurse with additional inspiration. In the same month that the All-Star Game was held, Nurse had the opportunity to sightsee at the Hall with Angela James, the first Canadian woman inducted into its celebrated class.
Although James certainly deserved an opportunity to compete at the Winter Games herself, she was a role model for Nurse, who first discovered her fascinating legacy during her teens. The fact that Nurse was able to achieve her hockey dreams pays homage to James’ lasting legacy, adding significance to the very important role of women as ice hockey icons.
Several weeks following Nurse’s experience at the Winter Games, she would be joined by fellow Team Canada skaters Laura Fortino (both alums of the Stoney Creek Jr. Sabres, which saw Nurse capture a bronze medal with the club at the OWHA Provincials) and Laura Stacey, along with future Toronto Furies teammates Renata Fast and Natalie Spooner on the field at Rogers Centre.
Home of Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays, these female hockey heroines were graciously invited for a first pitch ceremony, simultaneously celebrating their Winter Games podium finish. Akin to their American counterparts, where a handful gathered on the fabled playing surface of Boston’s Fenway Park as the Red Sox hosted the Tampa Bay Rays, both were gestures, which are crucial towards accelerating the acceptance of women as highly relevant in modern sporting culture.
Such intriguing linkages also resulted in another profound association with Lacquette, continuing beyond the honour of their game-used items from PyeongChang becoming artifacts in the Hall. With Lacquette and fellow All-Star captain Liz Knox selecting players in the Frozen Fantasy All-Star Draft, a traditional process in All-Star lore that determines the game’s starting lineups; Nurse was the second pick of Lacquette, third overall in the Draft. Following Marie-Philip Poulin (Team Purple’s first pick) and Brianna Decker (Team Gold’s first pick), both competitors from the Games, it signified Nurse’s standing among the league’s elites.
“The draft was a lot of fun and I think everyone involved had a great time! There was a room full of talent and I was honoured to have been selected as one of the 34 of the CWHL’s best. Hearing Poulin and Decker selected and then having my named called was pretty cool. They are two players who I have tremendous respect for. It was neat to be mentioned by them.”
Of note, the only other Furies player selected in said Draft was their team captain (and former two-time All-Star captain), Natalie Spooner, conscripted to Team Gold. Renata Fast and Mellissa Channell, also a former teammate of Nurse with the University of Wisconsin Badgers, were garbed in the attire of Team Purple.
Despite Spooner being the lone skater representing the Furies on Team Gold, it represented a much different scenario for Nurse, who ranks second to her in the Furies scoring race. Having skated alongside Spooner in two significant debuts during a memorable 2018: the first representing the privilege of competing for Canada at the Winter Games, followed by the leap into the professional ranks, draped in the iconic blue and white garb of the Furies, calling such a notable figure in her hockey journey, a titanic teammate and friend, as a rival during the milestone of her first CWHL All-Star Game was highly atypical,
“Playing against Natalie was actually really strange. We have played together with the Furies and also Team Canada for the last six months and there are tendencies of hers that I am definitely used to.
We had a lot of fun with things, trying to distract each other and knock us off our games. I am excited to have her back on my wing now!”
Yet, the game itself, complemented by the preceding draft, were only part of a highly resonant narrative that saw the game’s prominent players connect with the community. Exceptionally proud of their standing as role models and inspirations, it is a role that Nurse relishes with tremendous honor.
Able to tap into her hockey roots, returning to the community of Ancaster, the feeling of coming full circle was only exceeded by the sense of paying it forward, providing inspiration and encouragement for the next generation of young players. Recounting how the experience truly embodied the essence of teamwork, one which was rewarded by the generous opportunity of allowing many youngsters of attending the CWHL All-Star Game, quite possibly their first-ever game, the accumulation of memories made is one that had a reciprocal effect, supplying Nurse with a cherished moment that defined her inaugural All-Star experience:
"Seeing the fans throughout the weekend. I was able to go back to Ancaster, which is where I began playing girls hockey. With Adidas Canada and the CWHL, we were able to outfit the girls and give them tickets and transportation to the All-Star game on Sunday. It was surreal going back to where it all began for me and giving back to the community. I got to see the girls with signs and banners waving at the game, so overall it was great!"
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Furies image obtained from : http://toronto.thecwhl.com/toronto-furies-2018-2019-roster-release
Rogers Centre image obtained from: https://twitter.com/natspooner5/status/979867092466970624
Winter Games image details: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images AsiaPac
Further reading: https://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/black-history-month-lasting-impact-angela-james/