In a year that sees Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the history of the NHL, gain induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, joining current CWHL commissioner Jayna Hefford as part of the 2018 Class, the arrival of Sarah Nurse to the Toronto Furies adds a feeling of serendipity. Selected second overall by the Furies in this year’s CWHL Draft, Nurse joins former CWHL All-Star Blake Bolden and Kunlun Red Star forward Jessica Wong as the only visible minorities claimed in the first round of CWHL Draft history.
Belonging to one of Canada’s premier sporting families, which also features cousins Darnell, a blueliner with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, along with Kia, a gold medalist from the 2015 Pan American Games, who recently enjoyed her rookie season with the WNBA’s New York Liberty, Sarah proudly stands shoulder-to-shoulder alongside them in terms of achievement.
In 2018, Sarah and her younger brother, Isaac, both enjoyed the opportunity to make key contributions to their family’s growing athletic legacy. Skating for the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Hamilton Bulldogs, Isaac contributed towards the club capturing the Robertson Cup, the city’s first OHL championship in over 30 years. With the triumph, Isaac and the Bulldogs qualified for the 2018 Memorial Cup tournament.
For Sarah, the prestige of the Draft was part of an eventful year that was highlighted through the attainment of a lifelong dream in her hockey odyssey. Part of Canada’s contingent that participated in women’s ice hockey at the 2018 Winter Games, Nurse became the first black Canadian to participate for Canada’s team at the Games. Such a milestone also brought with it a shared sense of history. Worth noting, teammate Brigitte Lacquette became the first Canadian of Aboriginal heritage to participate in women’s ice hockey at the Games.
Coincidentally, the Canadian roster also featured Renata Fast and Natalie Spooner, two of the Furies’ current superstars. Of note, Nurse’s Olympic journey also featured a gathering of familiar faces, adding luster to such a monumental milestone. In addition, goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens plus forwards Emily Clark and Blayre Turnbull had already called Nurse a teammate once before, having all worn the jersey of the revered University of Wisconsin Badgers.
Graduating from Wisconsin in 2017 with Second Team All-America recognition, it was part of a season that saw Nurse record 53 points, becoming the 22nd player to reach the program’s Century Club in career points. As a side note, Clark and Nurse were teammates on Canada’s U22/Developmental Team, capturing a silver medal at the 2015 Four Nations Cup.
Making her Games debut on February 11, 2018, a 5-0 win against the Olympic Athletes from Russia, Nurse recorded her first Olympic goal four days later. Recording the game-winning tally in a 2-1 preliminary round victory against the eternal rival United States, said goal was scored against Maddie Rooney while the assist was credited to Jocelyne Larocque, the captain of the Markham Thunder. Adding to the sense of coincidence was the fact that both Rooney and Larocque have suited up for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, one of Wisconsin’s biggest rivals.
Taking into account that February is Black History Month, Nurse’s presence at the Games embodied the essence of inspiration and empowerment, building on O’Ree’s remarkable legacy. By tournament’s end, Nurse reached a podium finish (silver) in her Games debut, reaching a revered milestone. Having also played at all three levels of Hockey Canada’s national women’s team program, also the first black player in program history to attain this summit, Nurse has taken on the mantle of role model, becoming one of the game’s most stirring and popular competitors.
For a Furies roster looking to return to the postseason for the first time since 2016, Nurse’s arrival may serve as the catalyst towards achieving such goals, turning the page on several frustrating seasons. Certainly in the early conversation among the favourites for Rookie of the Year honours, she also holds the potential to become a building block for the franchise, a mainstay for many seasons to come.
Undeniably, Nurse is not the only highly regarded player in the Furies’ future plans. Holding three of the top eight picks in the draft, the Furies also acquired two-time Frozen Four championship goaltender Shea Tiley (sixth overall) plus scoring sensation Brittany Howard (eighth overall), the all-time leading scorer for the Robert Morris University Colonials. Nurse already holds an element of familiarity with Tiley, as their collegiate teams, Wisconsin and Clarkson, opposed each other in the 2017 NCAA Frozen Four championship game.
Despite the fact that these three members of the Furies draft class have not yet participated in a regular season game together, there has already been a familiarity among them, poised to set a positive tone in the season to come. With Hockey Canada holding its annual National Women’s Team Fall Festival, held this year in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Nurse was part of a significant Furies presence.
In addition to the group of top Furies picks, Nurse, Tiley and Howard, the attendance of Fast and Spooner was just as important. Considering that all have donned the Maple Leaf during international play, sharing a prestigious pedigree, the Festival took on a key dual purpose, helping develop rapport and chemistry amongst these future Furies teammates. Definitely, Nurse and Howard are ready to become key pieces in a rejuvenated Furies offensive attack, highly capable of complementing team captain Natalie Spooner’s scoring flair, subsequently allowing for a multitude of additional scoring opportunities, providing an exciting new element.
Although one of the biggest adjustments for Nurse in her rookie season of pro hockey will likely involve calling teammates from Wisconsin and/or Team Canada newly minted opponents, there is no question as to her blossoming status as one of the next household names in women’s ice hockey. Ready to build on the momentum of the Winter Games, while looking to achieve new milestones in the professional ranks, Nurse is part of a new generation of women’s hockey stars, heralding an exciting new era filled with promising potential and growing confidence.