One step closer to the promised land of women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games, Sarah Nurse is ready to build on her superstar status and work towards the pinnacle that is the dream of every player since their skates carved into that frozen sheet of ice for the first time. While Nurse’s rise to prominence is a gradual one, her work ethic and drive to succeed have resulted in the desired opportunity to participate in Canadian Centralization, starting this summer.
From her roots in Hamilton, Ontario, where she starred with the PWHL’s Stoney Creek Jr. Sabres, part of a golden era of prodigious talent that included the likes of Laura Fortino and Brianne Jenner, both 2014 Winter Games gold medalists, and Jessica Wong, to name a few. Appearing with the titanic Team Ontario Red at the Canadian National Championships in 2011 and 2012, Nurse’s talents became quickly coveted.
During these formative years, Nurse also began to acquire an element of international experience. In addition to gaining an invitation twice to the Selection Camp and Strength and Conditioning Camp held by Canada’s U18 national women’s team, there was an opportunity to bring her skills across the Atlantic. Participating at the 2011 IIHF High Performance Women’s Hockey Camp in Slovakia, Nurse was one of 16 Canadian players on-hand, an event that was also the springboard for the beginning of the IIHF Ambassador and Mentor Program.
On-ice heroics with the University of Wisconsin would bring with it further opportunities to add to her international experiences, including stints at two different levels of Canada’s national women’s team. As the occasion to take part in the first Centralization experience brings with it a remarkable amount of excitement, Nurse is also observant of the bigger picture, grateful that there are multiple levels in Hockey Canada’s hierarchy for young players to develop their skills,
“We are fortunate in Canada to have amazing development programs to prepare you for the senior and Olympic level. Going through the U18 and U22 programs has given me a great sense of pride and has also kept me inclined to reach the next level. Being a part of the Centralization roster is an incredible honor and very humbling. All of those hours of practice and training have gotten me one step closer to reaching my dream of playing in the Olympic Games.”
Starring for the Wisconsin Badgers under the tutelage of head coach (and Miracle on Ice member) Mark Johnson, each season in Madison would see Nurse make a bigger impact with the Badgers, improving on her preceding season’s point total. Following her sophomore season, she would make impressive strides. After a 25-point campaign in 2014-15, she would score 25 goals in 2015-16, while logging 13 assists. This impressive 13 point improvement would be followed by a sparkling 15-point gain for her senior season.
Finishing the 2016-17 season with 25 goals once again, but a stellar 28 assists, she would attain a career-best 53 goals, propelling her into the Century Club with 137 career points, becoming the 22nd player in Badgers history to attain such status. Graduating with 13 power play goals, 7 short-handed goals and 15 game-winning tallies, Nurse showed an impressive ability to rise to the occasion. In the aftermath of her senior season, she would be rewarded for her sterling play with Second Team All-America honors.
Along with Emily Clark, they represented the heartbeat of a high-powered offense that helped the Badgers hold a vice-like grip on the number one ranking in the national polls. Starting the season with a multi-point performance on September 23 against St. Cloud State, it would be the first of 12. Exactly one month later, Nurse would explode with a fantastic four goal performance on the road against North Dakota.
Before the holiday break, Nurse would provide another epic offensive output, becoming the first player in program history to record a hat trick against archrival Minnesota. Achieving the feat in a December 4 tilt on home ice at LaBahn Arena, Nurse also added an assist on a first period goal by Sydney McKibbon as 12 different Badgers skaters logged at least one point.
Heading into the New Year, Nurse would maintain the hot hand, assembling a sterling 10-game scoring streak from January 14 to February 18. Said streak would begin in exciting fashion, as the January 14 match with St. Cloud State resulted in an attendance record for a women’s ice hockey match at Kohl Center.
An astounding 15,359 fans jammed the arena as the Badgers peppered St. Cloud goaltender Janine Alder with more than 60 shots, only the ninth time in program history, in a 2-0 shutout win. Just 47 seconds into the second period, Nurse and Annie Pankowski gained the assists on the game-winning goal scored by Emily Clark.
Recording 14 points during this stretch, Nurse’s consistency was highlighted by back-to-back three assist games against conference opponent Bemidji State, which also saw Desbiens log two shutout wins. Overall, the Badgers won eight games in regulation time, along with a pair in a shootout during Nurse’s scoring streak. One of those shootout wins represented a season highlight, as 12 rounds were required in a dramatic February 11 affair with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, which saw freshman Mekenzie Steffen record the shootout winner.
Just as impressive was a five-game scoring streak which took place in the postseason. Amassing 14 points again, Nurse would record a hat trick, her third of the season, against Minnesota State, while logging an assist for a four-point performance (also her third of the season). She would follow it up with back-to-back three point efforts to clinch the WCHA Postseason crown, garnering MVP honors in the process. Said streak would extend into the first round of the NCAA tournament with three points against the Robert Morris Colonials, who were making their tournament debut.
Running parallel to this remarkable success in her Badgers jersey was the milestone of wearing the iconic Maple Leaf. Starting in 2014, which was also Hockey Canada’s centennial anniversary, Nurse was joined by Mellissa Channell, Emily Clark, Ann-Renée Desbiens and Blayre Turnbull as members of the Canadian Under-22/Development Team. As a side note, teammate Pankowski (and Badgers alum) Alex Rigsby were also named to USA Hockey’s U22 squad.
In November 2015, Nurse would add another opportunity with Hockey Canada to her athletic resume. Named to the roster that competed in the 4 Nations Cup, it marked her debut with the national senior team, emerging from the event with a silver medal.
For a Badgers program known for its American-born talent that has donned the Stars and Stripes in the Winter Games, including the likes of Meghan Duggan, Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight, among others, there has been a recent renaissance highlighted by Canadian talent. Headlined by Desbiens, the first Canadian-born goaltender to capture the Patty Kazmaier Award, Nurse was part of an impressive gathering of world-class content at Wisconsin, representing an exciting new era.
Heading into Canada’s Centralization for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, Desbiens and Nurse are joined by another pair of distinguished Wisconsin teammates. Among them are Nova Scotia’s Blayre Turnbull, who scored the Clarkson Cup winning goal in 2016 as a member of the Calgary Inferno. Clark, a stoic yet skillful skater from Saskatchewan has captured a pair of silver medals at the IIHF Women’s World Championships. As a side note, Carolyne Prevost, another Canadian-born Badgers alum, appeared at all three levels of Hockey Canada’s female national teams, culminating with an exhibition game appearance for the senior team in 2013.
Being able to engage in this newest chapter of her hockey journey with former teammates, but lasting friends, from her halcyon days at Wisconsin promises an element of enjoyment. As Nurse recounts, the Centralization announcement was one that brought with it a shared jubilation. Still on campus at Madison, Wisconsin, where Clark and Desbiens also remained in residence, the news brought with it a renewed sense of teamwork. Taking into account that Centralization shall take place in Calgary, where Turnbull currently resides, due to her pro hockey commitments, it shall temporarily become a second home for this trio of distinguished Badgers alums,
“It is extremely exciting to be able to share this journey with Ann-Renée, Blayre and Emily. The day we found out Emily ran over to my apartment in about 30 seconds to congratulate me. I’ve been training in Madison for the last few weeks with Emily and Ann-Renée and Blayre has been a huge help with helping us find living and giving us information about Calgary. We’ve gone through a lot together and we’re all very supportive of each other. At Wisconsin, we’ve pushed each other both on and off the ice so I’m excited to be able to do it again in Calgary. It’s nice to know I always have them in my corner.”
The sense of family that exists with Nurse’s hockey sisters from Wisconsin is part of a much fuller narrative. Nurse comes from a prominent family whose achievements in sport has generated interest on both sides of the border. While most of the Nurse family’s sporting glories took place in Ontario, the name is also prominent in areas such as Storrs, Connecticut, Edmonton and Syracuse.
Roger Nurse was an accomplished competitor in lacrosse, remaining active in the game as a referee in the National Lacrosse League. Kia’s father, Richard, competed in 103 games with the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the Canadian Football League, playing on offense at the wide receiver position. In 1993, he would win the team’s Charlotte Simmons Humanitarian Award, eventually retiring in 1995.
Another family member, Raquel Nurse (who is Sarah’s aunt), competed in basketball with the Syracuse Orange program, capturing the university’s Athlete of the Year Award in 1997. Her husband Donovan McNabb, also a Syrcause alum, threw for over 37,000 yards in the NFL, becoming only the third black quarterback to start a Super Bowl game (behind Doug Williams and Steve McNair), leading the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl XXXIX.
In this generation of the Nurse family, hockey definitely runs in the blood. Sarah’s side of the family sees younger brothers Elijah and Isaac are also promising hockey players. Elijah was drafted by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, while youngest brother Isaac appeared in 54 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2016-17.
Kia’s younger brother Darnell (Sarah’s cousin), an Edmonton Oilers draft pick, also has links to Hockey Canada, having donned the Maple Leaf at the IIHF U18 and U20 world championships, along with a gold medal in the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. Tamika Nurse also showed skill on the hardcourt, competing with the Oregon Ducks and Canada’s U19 national women’s team.
Defeating the heavily favored US team in the gold medal game, which featured Breanna Stewart, the eventual first overall pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft. Representing one of the greatest moments in the history of Canadian basketball, there was a unique hockey connection in the win against the US juggernaut.
The gold medal game took place at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, located inside the iconic Maple Leaf Gardens, one of Canada’s most hallowed hockey shrines. Kia would score 33 points, as homecourt advantage took on an even greater meaning, with Canada prevailing in an 81-73 final. As a side note, Kia was bestowed the honor of serving as Canada’s flag bearer for the closing ceremonies of the Pan Am Games.
While the WNBA definitely waits for Kia, and Sarah will have her choice of continuing her career either in the NWHL (where the Boston Pride drafted her eighth overall in 2016) or in the CWHL, it is a strong point of pride to see their athletic attainments run parallel to each other.
Highly motivated to emulate her cousin’s hardcourt heroics with continued on-ice success, Nurse would love nothing more than to contribute towards a golden outcome at Pyeongchang 2018. Such a result would complement the unforgettable Pan Am Games gold medal that Kia earned, representing more than just a unique feat in modern Canadian sporting history. It is the kind of achievement would elevate the already revered Nurse family into sporting royalty.
“It would be incredible to be able to come home with an Olympic Gold Medal and I’m so lucky to have such a supportive and involved family. Kia is an amazing athlete who has represented Canada extremely well and I’m excited to have the opportunity to do the same.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Hockey Canada Images
Badgers action shot by: David St. Luka
Image of Kia and Sarah Nurse obtained from: http://www.espn.com/espnw/sports/article/14949618/sarah-nurse-leads-wisconsin-ncaa-hockey-tournament-kia-nurse-hopes-second-basketball-title-uconn