There will be several familiar hockey surnames like Subban, Domi and Cassels playing in the world under-17 challenge in Windsor, Ont. next week. Another player with a sporting connection of a different kind will be Team Ontario defenceman Darnell Nurse of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
His father Richard was a receiver with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the family's impressive athletic bloodlines don't stop there. His mother Cathy played basketball at McMaster University. His 23-year-old sister Tamika played basketball at Bowling Green and Oregon. His younger sister Kia, 15, is a star at St. Thomas More Secondary in Hamilton, and led the Ontario under-15 squad to a national title last summer.
Also, Nurse's uncle just happens to be Donovan McNabb. Richard's sister met the NFL quarterback when the two attended Syracuse University.
"They all have been a big influence in my life," Darnell said.
"We have a competitive household, that's for sure. We all want to win. My dad likes to talk about his accomplishments. But I think it's been great to grow up in an environment like that. We share our stories about our different circumstances and we learn from each other."
Hockey certainly is a different circumstance in the Nurse household, which begs the question why did Darnell wind up patrolling a blue-line on the ice instead of hitting the hardwood or following his dad onto the gridiron.
"That question has been asked a lot," Darnell said. "From a young age my dad put me into hockey as soon as I could skate around the age of four. I really love the game and it's something that I've never wanted to get away from."
Darnell, taken third overall by the Greyhounds in the OHL draft last June, has excelled at hockey and that wasn't the case with basketball. He had an interest in football, but Richard wanted his son playing a safer sport, which is an interesting thought process considering the concussion problem that has hit hockey.
"I played football," Richard said. "I had my bell rung. I don't have any concerns about hockey. I think you have to be respectful of the game and be mindful of the game and know what is going on around you.
"In football, one of the things they teach you is to keep your head on a swivel. That's one of the things I've talked to him about with hockey - to keep his head on a swivel and to be aware of his surroundings and the position he puts himself in."
Father born in Trinidad
Richard was born in Trinidad and raised in Hamilton. He even played some hockey in the Hamilton Huskies minor system ("I wasn't very good at it," he chuckled) before he left to attend Canisius College in Buffalo on a football scholarship.
Richard's message to his son about keeping his head on a swivel was driven home last summer. When Darnell arrived in the Soo a couple weeks before training camp, he hit the ice with some former Greyhounds like Tyler Kennedy of Pittsburgh Penguins and Dallas Stars defenceman Trevor Daley as they prepared for their NHL season.
Nurse received plenty of pointers from Daley because they play the same position.
"The most important lesson I learned from him was to keep my feet moving all the time," the 16-year-old Nurse said. "He also stressed that I need to play a thinking-man's game and to keep my head up at all times."
Because Nurse already stands 6-foot-4, he often gets compared to Chris Pronger, the Philadelphia Flyers captain who is out for the rest of the season with a concussion. He likes to watch Pronger play, but now because he spent time with Daley last summer, Nurse watches as many Dallas games on television as possible.
Daley has become a role model for Nurse, along with Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla, and just like Iginla won gold at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, Nurse would like to win gold with Team Ontario in Windsor.
"We were disappointed last year when we didn't win a medal [at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax]," said Nurse, whose Team Ontario finished fourth after losing in the bronze-medal game to Alberta. "We want to come home with a medal this time, preferably gold."
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