Canada's Sarah Nurse adds Olympic hockey to her athletic family tree

The Canadian Press
Canada's Sarah Nurse adds Olympic hockey to her athletic family tree

Canada's Sarah Nurse adds Olympic hockey to her athletic family tree

Canada's Sarah Nurse adds Olympic hockey to her athletic family tree

A seven-year-old Sarah Nurse was at her grandparents' house watching the Canadian women's hockey team play for Olympic gold in 2002 when inspiration struck.

She headed to her grandmother's craft room to dig into scrapbooking supplies. Nurse fashioned gold medals out of her materials and her grandfather hung one around her neck.

"I made gold medals out of construction paper and made a little Canadian flag," Nurse recalls. "There is a picture of me and my gold medal and my Canadian flag.

"I guess I told them I would be in the Olympics one day."

Now 23, the forward from Hamilton is doing that for Canada at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

She was among 28 women invited to Calgary last year to try out for the Olympic team. Nurse won a spot despite never having played in a world championship for Canada.

Her surname is familiar because it keeps popping up in elite sport. And when Sarah gives a rundown of her athletic bloodlines, they're so vast she actually forgets to mention a couple.

Her father Roger was a high-level lacrosse player, uncle Richard a wide receiver for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and aunt Cathy a McMaster University basketball player.

Aunt Raquel played hoops for Syracuse, uncle Donovan McNabb was an NFL quarterback and cousin Tamika played basketball for Bowling Green.

Cousin Darnell is an Edmonton Oilers defenceman. Younger brother Isaac is a forward for the Ontario Hockey League's Hamilton Bulldogs.

Cousin Kia is a point guard for Connecticut and also an Olympian having played for the Canadian team that reached the quarter-finals of the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.

"I'm definitely proud of their accomplishments," Sarah said. "Just to be able to say we have two Olympians in our family, we have people playing professionally, I think it's amazing.

"The funny thing about our family is even though we're full of athletes competing at a high level, everything is celebrated."

Sarah was named to the Olympic hockey team in December the same day UConn played a game against Duquesne in Toronto to celebrate Kia's senior year.

"(Sarah) might be the first family member to bring home a medal," Kia said that night. "And I'll be more than ecstatic to see that."

With Sarah and Darnell both in Alberta this winter, Sarah was able to catch one of Darnell's Oiler games in December.

"We never talk hockey. More, we just talk about life and how things are going," Darnell said. "It's a very proud moment for our whole family to see her play and wear that Maple Leaf in the Olympics."

Five foot eight and 140 pounds, Sarah is a fluid and balanced skater entrusted by coach Laura Schuler to play both the power play and penalty kill.

"She's really good at being able to find time and space," Schuler said.

"Her hockey sense is very good, her skating is excellent. When you combine those two things, quickness and hockey sense, you can excel defensively on the penalty kill or offensively on the power play."

Added Darnell: "Her offensive ability, instinct, her hands, those are probably her strongest suits. It's good I got the defensive side of the puck and she's got all the offence."

Sarah and her father learned to skate at the same time.

"They froze over baseball diamonds at the park across the street from my house," Sarah recalled. "He really didn't know how to skate that well. We learned how to do crossovers together.

"The big thing for him was his parents were immigrants. They came from the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago. He was never able to play hockey. It was just something he didn't get the opportunity to do."

Growing up in a family of high achievers in sport, Sarah is hungry to help Canada extend its run of women's hockey gold to five in a row in Pyeongchang.

"I kind of love the pressure. I don't like being the underdog," she said.

"I want to be the one who is defending something or who is going out and has everything to lose. I think that comes from growing up in a very competitive family."

— With files from Lori Ewing and Dean Bennett

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Follow at @DLSpencer10 on Twitter

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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