Day 6

Sarah Nurse wants to leverage All-Star weekend into success for professional women's hockey

After the collapse of the Canadian Women's Hockey League, the opportunities for pro-level female players are slim, but Canadian Olympian Sarah Nurse hopes that being a part of this year's NHL All-Star weekend will bring change.

'We really need to raise awareness around the women's game,' said the Canadian Olympian

Canadian Olympian Sarah Nurse has been travelling with the PWHPA to promote professional women's hockey across North America. She's part of Team Canada at the NHL All-Star women's 3-on-3 game in St. Louis. (Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images)

Top-level women's hockey players will once again be part of the NHL's All-Star weekend this year in St. Louis — and the women will get their own 3-on-3 game as Canada goes up against the U.S.

Sarah Nurse is one of the women invited to take part in the NHL's All-Star events. The Canadian Olympian formerly played with the Toronto Furies in the Canadian Women's Hockey League before it folded last year.

She says being part of the weekend's events are a big boost to the women's game.

"Obviously, I think that the NHL is a very important factor in all of this and what's going on in women's hockey right now," Nurse told the Day 6.

And what's "going on" in women's hockey is the effort to create a new, unified professional league for women.

A week after Blayre Turnbull, centre, and her Calgary Inferno teammates celebrated winning the Clarkson Cup in 2019, the Canadian Women's Hockey League ceased operations. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The Professional Women's Hockey Players Association

After the CWHL closed its doors citing financial troubles, more than 200 players across North American created and joined the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association (PWHPA). Their goal is to promote their sport and develop a pro league.

Now, as part of the PWHPA, Nurse has joined the league's North American Dream Gap tour to help promote the sport.

"We started off in September, not really knowing exactly what to expect," explained Nurse. "But our first showcase in Toronto … was absolutely incredible. We sold out, I think, almost every single game."

"Since then we've had events in New Hampshire, Chicago, and then another one in Toronto last weekend, which was a huge success," she said.

Nurse adds that getting additional exposure through the NHL All-Star game also helps the women's game.

"We believe that the NHL has the infrastructure and the resources to really help us out and really help us with creating a league," she said.

Part of the benefit is simply making more people aware of the women's game.

Nurse says that part of their goal with the PWHPA Dream Gap tour "is to really get ourselves out there, because when we don't, we're out of sight, out of mind, and people don't actually realize what's going on."

"We really need to raise awareness around the women's game and and make people realize that there is professional women's hockey," she added.

The WNBA tentative collective bargaining agreement

On Jan. 14, 2020, the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) announced a new tentative collective bargaining agreement with its players. 

The deal includes a major salary boost, in some cases tripling player salaries, childcare provisions and better travel conditions. It's seen as a huge step for struggling professional female athletes.

We want them to dream about playing professional hockey and playing in a stable league at all times.- Sarah Nurse, member of the PWHPA

"They're really making history and they're really paving the way for other sports," said Nurse, whose cousin Kia Nurse plays with the WNBA's New York Liberty.

Nurse says it's not just the livable wage that is important, but that addressing other important issues like maternity leave and how the players are treated while travelling also matter.

"It's little things that really set you up for success as a professional athlete, and that's truly what professional sports is — is to be set up for success and to perform at your best every night," she said.

"I think what they did was absolutely incredible and it gives me optimism and hope for the future for us."

The future for girls playing hockey

When Nurse and her fellow players appear at public events, such as the PWHPA Dream Gap tour, they're surrounded by young girls who play the game, or who want to.

Briann Wareham, left, and Abbey Nyeste, right, said the end of the CWHL left them feeling scared about their futures in hockey. (Helen Pike/CBC)

"They come and they say, 'I want to be like you and play on Team Canada one day,' and that's so amazing hear. You know, it gives me chills and it brings me so much happiness to hear that," said Nurse. "But we want them to dream for more than that."

Nurse explains that the Olympics only come around once every four years and players are left wondering what to do with the three-and-half year gap between training for the next Olympic Games.

"We want them to dream about playing professional hockey and playing in a stable league at all times," explained Nurse.

"We really want that for them, because that's going to be a huge factor in them being incredible hockey players."


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