All in the family: Hockey player Sarah Nurse forging her own path
Cousin of Darnell, Kia remains in mix for Olympics after stellar collegiate career
When it comes to the Nurse family, Sarah isn't the first name that comes to mind.
Hamilton's uber-athletic family includes Kia — a two-time national champion with the powerhouse of women's college basketball, the University of Connecticut, and Darnell — the seventh overall pick of the 2013 NHL draft and defenceman for the Edmonton Oilers.
Comparisons between Sarah Nurse and her cousins were only natural considering they lived just five minutes apart.
But over the past four years, Nurse made quite a name of her own as a star forward on the women's hockey team at the University of Wisconsin.
"I think that's been happening not only my whole life, but their whole lives as well so it definitely doesn't bother me. It makes me proud of my family's achievements and I'm happy for everything they've accomplished. But I'm here to create my own path," Nurse told CBC Sports ahead of next week's two exhibition games against the U.S.
Nurse is currently in her first centralization camp with the national team from which Canada's squad for the Olympics in Pyeongchang will be selected.
She knows that making the roster would be the first step towards furthering her own identity and a fulfillment of a dream Nurse has had since she was seven.
The 22-year-old remembers watching Canada win gold at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City and handing out her own self-made gold medals to her family.
Now that Nurse is on the other side, she isn't about to let that opportunity slip away with the Olympics in her grasp.
"The more experienced, veteran girls realize we're here to try to earn a spot on the team. We have just as good a chance as they do and they know that. One of the older girls told me that I'm not here to gain experience; I am here to make this team. They want us to challenge them and keep pushing the pace," Nurse says.
Lethal goal scorer
Nurse seems to be doing just that, scoring twice in three games played at the Four Nations Cup earlier this month.
This isn't out of the ordinary for Nurse, who developed into one of the best snipers in Wisconsin's history, scoring 76 goals during her four-year collegiate career — good for eighth all-time among a Badgers alum that includes American stars Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker.
Nurse says that being a goal scorer requires a great deal of confidence in your shot, something that's been ingrained into her.
But at the same time, she isn't afraid to watch game film or consult for help when she's having trouble finding the back of the net.
"[The] biggest part of my game is my hockey sense and vision. I see the game really well and can recognize when there is an opportunity to go score a goal," Nurse says.
"I talk to my coaches on the bench during games in case little adjustments need to be made. Different opponents bring different things so I love to know [anything] to make me better. It's important to see the game from a different perspective."
Nurse knows that in order to crack the Canadian roster, she needs to do more than just light the lamp.
Over the years, Nurse has played a more physical brand of hockey — getting gritty in the corners as opposed to just relying on her speed and athleticism to bob and weave through opposing skaters.
She's a solid two-way player — playing both roles on special teams — amassing 13 power play goals, seven short-handed goals, and a plus-104 rating with Wisconsin.
Shorthanded goal puts <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Badgers?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Badgers</a> up 3-1! Watch <a href="https://twitter.com/Badgers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Badgers</a> now on <a href="https://twitter.com/fswisconsin?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@FSwisconsin</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FOXSportsGO?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FOXSportsGO</a>: <a href="https://t.co/eYsULBhytf">https://t.co/eYsULBhytf</a> <a href="https://t.co/pna3IcBUVx">pic.twitter.com/pna3IcBUVx</a>—@fswisconsin
The versatility of Nurse could give her an edge when it comes down to the final cuts.
"There's a ton of goal scorers here. I may not be the one goal scorer they're going to look to but I bring a lot of different things. I take a lot of pride in that," Nurse says.
"Being the goal scorer [at Wisconsin], you look to players who can kill penalties, who are hard on the forecheck and you're proud of those players and need those players on your team. For me to take on that role, I know how my teammates feel about it and so there's definitely a lot of pride in that."
Nurse sees a lot of Hockey Canada in her alma mater, where there is a storied history and expectation to win.
She was thrown into the fire early, playing hotly contested games against archrival Minnesota where Nurse had to be ready for puck drop.
It was in those matchups and four consecutive Frozen Four (national semifinals) appearances that Nurse developed the reputation of a big-game player.
In her senior year, Nurse became the first Badger to record a hat trick in 87 all-time meetings against the Gophers.
"For three of my four years, we were one and two [in the nation]. They are high-pressure situations [and] hostile environments. Just being here with Hockey Canada and having a rivalry with the Americans, it definitely parallels what I've been going through the last four years," Nurse says.
"When things don't go your way and you get beat, you're mad and you're angry. You are itching for the next moment that you can get redemption, basically."
With files from Mike Brophy