Josh Ho-Sang hangs with Skillz Black Aces


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New York Islanders 2014 first round draft pick Joshua Ho-Sang returned to his roots this week to provide some on-ice inspiration and motivation to the Skillz Black Aces, a youth hockey team that he played for over four summers.

Ho-Sang, a high-scoring forward for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, has called playing for Coach Cyril Bollers’ predominantly-minority squad “probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life.”

N.Y. Islanders draft pick Joshua Ho-Sang (second to the left, second row) with Skillz Black Aces members. The finely-locked gentleman on the second row far right is dad Wayne Ho-Sang. Coach C.J. Bollers stands second row, far left.

N.Y. Islanders draft pick Joshua Ho-Sang (second to the left, second row) with Skillz Black Aces members. The finely-locked gentleman on the second row far right is dad Wayne Ho-Sang. Coach C.J. Bollers stands second row, far left.

Skillz is increasingly becoming a stepping stone to the National Hockey League Draft. Ho-Sang, the 28th overall pick, Barrie Colts forward Brendan Lemieux, a 2014 second-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, Portland Winterhawks forward Keegan Iverson, the New York Rangers third-round selection, and Owen Sound Attack forward Jaden Lindo, a fourth-round choice of the Pittsburgh Penguins, are all alums of Skillz summer hockey teams.

So are Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenseman Darnell Nurse, the Edmonton Oilers’ 2013  first-round pick; Kitchener Rangers forward Justin Bailey, a Buffalo Sabres second-round pick; forward Stephen Harper of the Erie Otters; and Bellville Bulls defenseman Jordan Subban, the Vancouver Canucks’ fourth-round pick and the younger brother of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban and Boston Bruins goaltending prospect Malcolm Subban.



L.A. Kings’ Jordan Nolan, Garden River First Nation, enjoy a day with Lord Stanley

What a season for Los Angeles Kings center Jordan Nolan and his family.

In the flash of Kings defenseman Alec Martinez’ double-overtime, series-winning goal that vanquished the New York Rangers in June, Nolan became a Stanley Cup winner for the second time in three seasons.

Kings' Jordan Nolan shared the Cup with his family and his tribe (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Kings’ Jordan Nolan shared the Cup with his family and his tribe (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Earlier this season, his dad, Ted Nolan, returned from the hockey wilderness to become head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, the team that fired him after the 1996-97 season. And while most National Hockey League coaches not named Mike Babcock were at  home during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Ted Nolan was busy in Sochi coaching Latvia’s national team.

Babcock’s Canadian team took home the Gold Medal, but only after squeaking out a nervous 2-1 quarterfinals victory against Nolan’s Latvian squad. And who knows what might have been had Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis not worn down under the barrage of 57 Canadian shots.

So Jordan Nolan’s day last week with the Stanley Cup was indeed a celebration – for the family and for the Garden River First Nation near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

The Nolans are proud Ojibwe who say their heritage is as much a part of them as hockey is part of Canada’s national fabric.

“I’m definitely excited to bring the Cup back to Garden and share it with family, friends, and fans,” Jordan Nolan told in June. “It’s pretty cool to do it again. I wasn’t expecting this halfway through the season.”

Jordan Nolan appeared in 64 regular season games for the Kings last season. He registered 6 goals, 4, assists and 54 penalty minutes. He played in three playoff games last season and was held scoreless.

Hockey Hall of Fame’s Phil Pritchard, who travels with the Cup all summer as it goes to each member of the Kings’ roster and coaching staff for a day, was kind enough to share photos of Jordan Nolan’s day with Lord Stanley.

Los Angeles Kings' Jordan Nolan celebrates Stanley Cup victory at a Garden River Pow Wow (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Los Angeles Kings’ Jordan Nolan celebrates Stanley Cup victory at a Garden River Pow Wow (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Jordan Nolan brought the Cup to Garden River when the Kings won it in 2012, so he figured he had to up his game when he returned with Stanley last week. So he surprised father Ted by also brining the Jack Adams Trophy that he won in 1996-97 as coach of the year for his work with the Sabres.

Father and son cling to the winner's bling - Jordan Nolan (right) to the Stanley Cup, Ted Nolan (left) to the Jack Adams Trophy (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Father and son cling to the winner’s bling – Jordan Nolan (right) to the Stanley Cup, Ted Nolan (left) to the Jack Adams Trophy (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).


Jordan Nolan strikes a familiar pose with the Cup (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Jordan Nolan strikes a familiar pose with the Cup (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).


Ted and Jordan Nolan enjoy a little father/son quiet time with Stanley (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Ted and Jordan Nolan enjoy a little father/son quiet time with Stanley (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Rinks tell story of minority hockey history

Originally posted on TheColorOfHockey:

To the naked eye they are nothing more than buildings – unremarkable structures that house sheets of ice, scoreboards, benches and locker rooms.

But a handful of ice skating rinks across the United States and Canada are much more. They bear the names of minorities who’ve contributed to hockey history and their left imprint on the game and in the communities that these rinks serve. Some of the rinks may not look like much, but they mean a lot in terms of the little-known story of hockey’s rich minority legacy.

From the shores of Atlantic City, N.J., to the chilly  river banks of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, the rinks offer a mixed roll call of recognizable and some not-so recognizable figures.

Art Dorrington back in the day. (Photo courtesy Boardwalk Hall & Atlantic City Convention Center via Getty Images)

Art Dorrington back in the day. (Photo courtesy Boardwalk Hall & Atlantic City Convention Center via Getty Images)

At age 83, Art Dorrington has long hung up his skates. But you can’t keep him out of the rink. He’s a fixture and legend…

View original 1,009 more words

More “Cool Runnings”? Jamaica seeks to build 2018 Winter Olympics hockey team


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The country that gave us Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, Red Stripe beer, and the world’s funkiest bobsled team wants to add one more thing to its “famous-for” list: ice hockey.

The Jamaica Olympic Ice Hockey Federation is ramping up its efforts to build a national team that it hopes will follow in the legendary footsteps of the Jamaican Bobsled Team and compete in the Winter Olympics, as early as the 2018 games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Jamaica took the first step in its seemingly improbable quest in May 2012 when it joined the International Ice

Former Bruins forward Graeme Townshend hopes to coach Jamaica in the Winter Olympics.

Former Bruins forward Graeme Townshend hopes to coach Jamaica in the Winter Olympics.

 Hockey Federation as an associate member. Step Two occurred last May when JOIHF announced the program’s management and coaching staff. The staff includes Head Coach Graeme Townshend, who was the NHL’s first Jamaican-born player when he debuted with the Boston Bruins in 1989-90; Paul Jerrard, who briefly played for the Minnesota North Stars, served as an assistant coach for the Dallas Stars, and is currently an assistant coach for the Utica Comets, the Vancouver Canucks’ American Hockey League farm team; and Cosmo Clarke, a former college player and minor leaguer who now specializes in strength training.

“There are quite a few players of Jamaican descent,” Lester Griffin, the Jamaica program’s assistant general manager, told me. “You have them playing in the NHL, you have them playing in the ECHL, college and juniors. It’s just a matter of letting them know about this and getting the message out there.”

Which brings us to Step Three. JOIHF is scheduled to hold its first-ever player tryout for Jamaican expatriates and other players of Caribbean heritage on August 23 at the Westwood Arena in Etobicoke, Ontario. Players from this and later tryouts will be considered for a 2015 exhibition touring team. That team will serve as an audition, of sorts, for a Jamaican squad that would play in IIHF tournaments and eventually attempt to qualify for the Winter Olympics.

“When the word first got out about this a couple of years ago I got a lot of calls from all over Canada, the United States, and parts of Europe from kids that want to be involved,” Townshend told me. “Now that the word is out officially that we’re having a tryout, I can just imagine there should be quite a turnout.”

With the clock rapidly ticking towards  2018, Townshend, 48, already envisions the type of team that he’d command in Pyeongchang. When he thinks Jamaica, he sees Slovenia. That country’s plucky seventh-place Olympic team had only one NHL star on its roster, Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar. The rest of the squad was a mix of younger and older international players, most of whom were bypassed by NHL teams.

“So I think our team would look something similar to that one,” Townshend said. “We wouldn’t have a big superstar, most likely, but we’d have a collection of players that I think could definitely compete. “We’d be relying on some former NHLers. Guys like (Montreal Canadiens defenseman) P.K. Subban (dad Karl Subban is from Jamaica and mom, Maria, hails from Montserrat) and the like wouldn’t be available to us because they’ve played for Canada, but players of that background. Then a collection of high-end juniors/college players who could fill the rest of the roster.”

Jamaica hopes hockey-playing cool runners will accompany its bobsled team to the 2018 Winter Games.

Jamaica hopes hockey-playing cool runners will accompany its bobsled team to the 2018 Winter Games.

Townshend, who runs youth hockey clinics and camps and served as a skills coach for the San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs, was approached by JOIHF officials in late 2011 about becoming Jamaica’s bench boss. Coaching a team from a warm-weather country without an indoor ice rink and has potential players spread around the globe? Sign me up, Townshend said.

“I’m on the ground floor of something that I think could be special. We’ll see what happens,” he told me. “For me, I think it’s a celebration of the heritage of the island. I’m proud that I came from the island, that my parents came to Canada with nothing and built a good life for ourselves, and hockey was a huge part of it. Jamaicans are great athletes and they’re passionate, and that’s everything that hockey’s all about.”

Jamaica still has quite a few hurdles – pardon the track and field metaphor – to overcome before playing its first official international game. IIHF rules require full member nations to have ice hockey facilities and grassroots hockey programs in place to grow the sport in-country. JOIHF officials say they’re starting street and roller hockey programs. As for the ice hockey facility, that’s going to take more planning and much more fundraising by the non-profit group.

“We’re going down there next month with a delegation and taking a rink person with us,” said Griffin, a long-time youth hockey organizer and official in South Carolina and Michigan. “We’ve reviewed a few places where we could put ice in or maybe a couple of locations where we can build a rink.”

Like Townshend, former Penguins defenseman Jim Paek is tasked with quickly building an Olympic hockey team(Photo/Pittsburgh Penguins).

Like Townshend, former Penguins defenseman Jim Paek is tasked with quickly building an Olympic hockey team(Photo/Pittsburgh Penguins).

Jamaica may be at a standing start in its drive for the Winter Games, but its not the only country trying to build a competitive hockey team in a hurry. South Korea, the 2018 Winter Games’ host nation, recently tapped former defenseman Jim Paek, who won Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992, to coach its struggling national team.

Paek’s mission is to improve a team that was relegated to the IIHF’s Division I, Group B after it went 0-5 at the world championship which South Korea hosted last April. The nation is ranked 23rd in the world, wedged between Great Britain and Poland.

“Hockey’s a funny sport,” Paek, 48, told The Toronto Star recently.  “Look at the 1980 U.S. team (when collegians won Olympic gold). Not saying we’ll do that, but you never want to set your goals low. You might as well shoot for the stars if you can.”

Townshend says never say never when it comes to South Korea and Jamaica chances on ice.

“I’d say 20 years ago, I was one of those ignorant people that laughed at the notion that Californians and Texans would play in the NHL,” he told me. “Now you’ve got Texans and Californians making the NHL. It’s not too far out of the realm of possibility that you’ll have a Jamaican born and trained player in 20 years.”

The Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Federation’s first player tryout is scheduled for August 23 at Westwood Arena, 90 Woodbine Downs Blvd., Etobicoke, Ont., Canada. For sign-up information, visit








P.K. gets paid – Subban signs 8-year, $72 million deal with Montreal


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Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban finally got the long-term deal that he’s longed for.

The 25-year-old NHL All-Star, 2014 Olympic hockey gold medalist and 2013 Norris Trophy winner as the league’s top defenseman signed an eight-year, $72 million contract with the Habs Saturday, ending months of sometimes tense negotiations that included an arbitration hearing last Friday. The deal makes Subban, who was a restricted free agent, one of the highest-paid defensemen in the league and represents the biggest salary cap hit – $9 million – against the Canadiens payroll for the 2014-15 season.

“We are very pleased to have reached a long term agreement with P.K. Subban,” Montreal General Manager Marc Bergevin said in a

Montreal Canadiens'  P.K. Subban.

Montreal Canadiens’ P.K. Subban.

statement. “This agreement helps consolidate the future of our team. A key element of our group of young veterans, P.K. plays with a high level of intensity every time he steps onto the ice. Despite his young age, he carries a great deal of experience and brings contagious energy to the team. Defensemen of his level are a rare commodity in the NHL.”

In a tweet, Subban said “Thank you @canadiensmtl for making a commitment to myself and my family. Im Excited about the future! #letsgetit.”

“I think that it sends a strong message to me that they want me here and they appreciate everything I’ve done to this point and they believe in me as a player,” he added in a Saturday night conference call. “I think I’ve always believed that, but obviously in this process and coming out with this result, now everybody else understands it and can see it as well and doesn’t have to speculate about how the Montreal Canadiens feel about me.”

The contract opens a new chapter for Subban and closes the book on a productive and sometimes controversial 2013-14 season for him. He registered 10 goals and 43 assists as the only Canadiens player to appear in all 82 regular season games last season. He was tied for fifth among NHL defensemen in scoring in 2013-14.

Subban led Montreal in assists – he was fifth among NHL defenders in helpers – and led the team in power play points with 23. He was second among Canadiens players in time on ice, averaging 24:36 minutes per game. He played a whopping 33 minutes in Game Four in the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers.

P.K. Subban will be jousting with the NHL's best, like Washington's Alex Ovechkin, for the next 8 seasons for Montreal (Photo/Chuck Myers)

P.K. Subban will be jousting with the NHL’s best, like Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, for the next 8 seasons for Montreal (Photo/Chuck Myers)

Subban was third on the Canadiens in penalty minutes with 81, shots on goal with 204, bodychecks with 135, and fourth in blocked shots with 125.

Though loved by Montreal fans, Subban’s gaudy numbers and electrifying style of play didn’t always translate to superstar treatment by his team or the hockey establishment. He was benched a couple of times last season by Canadiens Head Coach Michel Therrien in the closing minutes of games or overtime.

“You know what, I think that at some point in time, like I’ve said, just focus on what you can control and that’s just how you play,” Subban said in an interview last February on Montreal’s TSN 690 radio.“Sometimes it’s tough, you know. There’s different circumstances during the season maybe where things aren’t going your way and you can be frustrated with many different things, but all you can do and all you can control as a player is just try to go out there, play your game and do what you can. It could be tough sometimes, but you just got to remain positive and try to be as positive as you can, and that’s what you got your parents for and that’s why you got close friends. That’s where that father-son relationship with your Dad is important.”

Subban also had to sweat out whether he would be selected for Canada’s Olympic hockey team for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. In speaking  on the team selection process, Mike Babcock, Team Canada’s head coach and bench boss of the Detroit Red Wings, told The Toronto Star “You don’t put people on the ice you don’t trust…you’ve got to be a trustworthy player.”

Subban was eventually named to Team Canada but he only played 11 minutes during the squad’s Gold Medal run. Though he didn’t play much, Subban didn’t sulk. He supported his teammates, worked hard in practice, and kept the team loose with his outgoing and outsized personality. He took in the Olympic experience, hauling his family (minus hockey-playing brothers Malcolm and Jordan) to Russia for the festivities.

Subban’s stock soared during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He led the team with 5 goals and 9 assists in 17 playoff games. He scored a double overtime game-winner against the Boston Bruins last May that spurred some racist tweets by a few so-called fans. He got under the skin of some Bruins players including forward Shawn Thornton, who squirted Subban in the face from the bench with a water bottle.

Subban handled the racist tweets with class, saying the incident wasn’t a reflection of the arch-rival Bruins or true Boston hockey fans.

“It’s completely unfair for anybody to point the finger at the organization or the fan base,” he said. “They have passionate fans here, great fan base and since I’ve been in the league it’s been awesome. I’ve come to Boston many times, my family has come here, and it’s been great.”


Famous hockey families of color – “The Lost Episodes”


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It was a joy speaking last week with members of the Subban, Vilgrain and Nurse families, famous hockey clans whose children are helping change the face of hockey from youth leagues to the college and professional ranks.

The families offered interesting insights about themselves, the game, and life in general. They shared so much that I couldn’t fit it all into last week’s stories. So I thought I’d jot down some of the more interesting items that didn’t make the cut. Call it “Famous Hockey Families of Color – The Lost Episodes.”

Karl Subban – father of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, Boston Bruins goaltending prospect Malcolm Subban, and

Montreal's P.K. Subban, right, is having an impact on and off the ice.(Photo/Chuck Myers)

Montreal’s P.K. Subban, right, is having an impact on and off the ice.(Photo/Chuck Myers)

2013 Vancouver Canucks draftee Jordan Subban – wonders sometimes whether P.K. fully grasps the impact he’s having in attracting more minorities to hockey either as fans or players.

“I sometimes don’t know if he knows the importance of what he’s doing,” Karl told me. “My wife (Maria) is from Montserrat and everyone from Montserrat who lives in Toronto knows about P.K. and are watching hockey because of P.K. So many Jamaicans are watching hockey because of this kid. P.K. got a letter from a daughter of a former Jamaican prime minister, Michael Manley. He was a prime minister when I was growing up (in Jamaica) before we got our independence. It’s all because of what he’s doing on the ice.”

Soo Greyhound's Darnell Nurse.

Soo Greyhound’s Darnell Nurse.

Richard Nurse, father of 2013 Edmonton Oilers first round draft pick Darnell Nurse, was a wide receiver and special teams player for five seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League and prided himself on being an athlete who wasn’t afraid to hit or get hit. Darnell likes to bang on the ice, too, but Richard insists that he didn’t get that trait from him. Consider it a gift from mom, Cathy.

“The funny thing is (Darnell’s) mother played college basketball (at Canada’s McMaster University) and she was a physical player,” Richard said. “All of my kids are physical.”

Even daughter Kia, a member of the Canadian women’s national basketball team who’ll play for the University of Connecticut this fall, likes to play a hard game. Her father has a warning for UConn’s opponents this season. “What they will find out about her very quick is, besides being extremely skilled, she’s a nasty piece of business,” Richard said. “She’s very physical.”

Richard said one of the neatest hockey experiences of Darnell’s career thus far was playing on Skillz

Skillz Coach Cyril Bollers.

Skillz Coach Cyril Bollers.

hockey teams, predominantly black youth squads coached by Cyril Bollers. Skillz’s Black Aces and Black Mafia teams have helped produce a bumper crop of NHL draft picks including Nurse; Joshua Ho-Sang, a forward taken with the 28th overall selection this year by the New York Islanders; forward Keegan Iverson, taken in the third round this year by the New York Rangers; and forward Jaden Lindo, a 2014 fourth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Former Skillz players and parents say the teams offered a change of pace for youngsters who often found themselves as the only minority players on their regular teams and had to conform to locker room cultures where country and rock music often dominated. Bollers’ Skillz locker rooms often moved to a Reggae beat.

“I always thought C.J. (Bollers)  did a really good job when he put the Black Aces, Black Mafia, and Skillz hockey together,” Richard said. “I remember talking to  C.J. and telling him ‘This is the first time he’s (Darnell) been in a dressing room with all black guys.’ It was a great experience because it’s something that doesn’t really happen all the time.”

U of Wisconsin's Sarah Nurse.

U of Wisconsin’s Sarah Nurse.

Richard said the Skillz alumni and P.K. Subban are adding new dimensions to hockey with their athleticism and confident swagger. But is hockey – particularly the NHL – ready for the swagger?

“That’s a great question,” Richard replied. “I think the trailblazer is P.K., but I don’t know the answer to that. Hockey is still very conservative.”

How good is University of Wisconsin forward Sarah Nurse? Darnell’s older cousin is so good that she played on boys teams until she was 11 and received her first U.S. college recruitment letter when she was in the eighth grade.

Sarah’s father, Roger Nurse, and her uncle, Richard, had visions of a dream team dancing in their heads when she and Darnell tried out together for a youth hockey team.

“They were, I think, 9 years old,” Roger Nurse told me. “Sarah played for the boys, we have a league called the Hamilton Hub league, it’s low-level rep hockey. So Sarah played in that league as an eight year old, had like 100 points, was the leading scorer in the league, tries out for the AAA team with Darnell and she didn’t make it. And we were like ‘Oh.’ She was still playing girls hockey at a division up anyway so she still got everything she needed, so we didn’t worry about it too much. But that was the only chance they had to play together.”

“You watch as a parent, you’re sitting there proud because there’s your daughter and your nephew and they’re the two best players on the ice and you’re like ‘Oh, this is great, this is going to be a fun year’ because you knew it would never happen again,” Roger continued. “When it didn’t happen, it was disappointing.”

Sarah’s apparently never looked back from that disappointment. She scored 11 goals and 10 assists in 38 games as a freshman last season for the Badgers. She was a member of Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the 2013 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship in Finland. She’ll participate in Hockey Canada’s National Women’s Development Team selection camp next month in Calgary.

Cassandra Vilgrain, a sophomore forward for University of New Hampshire women’s hockey team and daughter of former NHLer Claude Vilgrain, told me that she’s thrilled to see more people of color involved in the sport at all levels. But she could only recall playing against one minority player – Boston College defenseman Kaliya Johnson.

Boston College's Kaliya Johnson (Photo/John Quackenbos).

Boston College’s Kaliya Johnson (Photo/John Quackenbos).

But women’s college hockey, like the rest of the sport, is experiencing an influx of players of color. California-born and Arizona-raised, Johnson tallied 11 assists for the Eagles last season. She was a member of the Silver Medal-winning U.S. team at the 2011-12 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women’s World Championship.

Brown University's Janice Yang.

Brown University’s Janice Yang.

Brown University forward Janice Yang led the Bears women’s hockey team in scoring last season with 7 goals and 5 assists in 29 games.  Yang, a junior from Westport, Conn., was joined on the team last season by forward Maddie Woo, a freshman forward from Plymouth,Minn. She had 2 goals and an assist in 29 games.

Princeton's Kelsey Koelzer (Photo/Princeton Athletic Communications)

Princeton’s Kelsey Koelzer (Photo/Princeton Athletic Communications)

Kelsey Koelzer was a freshman forward for the Princeton University Tigers women’s team last season. A Horsham, Pa., native, she tallied 6 goals and 4 assists in 31 games.








Family competitiveness fuels hockey success for the Nurses


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When it comes to competition, it’s hard to beat the Nurse family.

Athletic excellence seems to be on every branch of the family tree: Roger Nurse was a stellar Lacrosse player in Canada. Brother Richard was a wide receiver for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. His wife, Cathy, was a basketball standout at Canada’s McMaster University. Their daughter, Tamika, played hoops for the University of Oregon and Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Another daughter, Kia, is a point guard for Canada’s national women’s basketball team and will play for the University of Connecticut this Fall.

Even extended family members have strong sports ties: Richard and Roger’s sister, Raquel, a former Syracuse University basketball standout, is married to former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Athletic competition fuels competition in the family.

 “Our whole family, we compete all the  time,” Richard Nurse told me. “My kids compete, me and my wife compete. Everybody competes. There’s not a day that goes by that we’re not competing.”

In recent years, a new competitive branch has sprouted on the Nurse family sports tree – a hockey branch.

Darnell Nurse wants to make the Oilers' roster and Team Canada's, too.

Darnell Nurse wants to make the Oilers’ roster and Team Canada’s, too.

Darnell Nurse, a defenseman for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, will be vying for a spot on the Edmonton Oilers roster when the National Hockey League team opens training camp in September. Next month, the Oilers’ 2013 first round draft pick will attend Hockey Canada’s National Junior Team’s summer development camp in Quebec, an audition of sorts for a slot on Team Canada for the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in Montreal and Toronto this winter.

Darnell, 19, captained the Greyhounds last season and tallied 13 goals, 37 assists in 64 games. He played four regular season games for the Oklahoma City Barons, Edmonton’s American Hockey League farm team, and registered one assist. He also notched an assist in three playoff games for the Barons.

Not bad for a kid who initially wanted to follow dad and Uncle Donovan and play football.

“He wanted to play football because he was surrounded by guys who played football,” Richard said. “When you’re a young kid and you’re athletic, they make you a running back. You end up getting hit 1,000 times before it truly ever counts. I told Darnell, ‘You’re a lanky kid, you’ve got a little bit of athleticism, they’re going to make you a running back, you’re going to get hit, you’re going to be on your knees all the time. If you want to play football, you can pick football later.’ He never did because the hockey thing obviously worked out for him.”

These days, it’s Darnell who dishes out the hits on the ice as a physical defenseman with skating skill and some offensive tools. He was one of the final cuts the Oilers made at last season’s training camp and he’s determined to make Head Coach Dallas Eakins’ decision whether to keep him or send him back to Sault Ste. Marie for another season of seasoning a hard one. When he was cut last year, Darnell said “it sucks.” This season, he’s taking a more measured approach.

 “Playing [in the NHL] last year probably wouldn’t have been the best for my development, and you probably take it a little harder when you first get sent down but for me I’m just going to put myself in a position where I’m in the best shape possible and as strong as I can be when September rolls around,” Darnell told the Edmonton Journal earlier this month.

Hockey runs in threes in Roger and Michelle Nurse’s home. Daughter Sarah, 19, begins her sophomore season with the University of Wisconsin’s NCAA Division I women’s hockey team. A forward, she scored 11 goals – including three game-winners – and 10 assists for the Badgers in 38 games. Her performance earned her a spot on the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s 2013-14 All Rookie Team.

Sarah Nurse, earned IIHF gold for Canada, seeks NCAA title with Badgers (Photo/David Stluka)

Sarah Nurse, earned IIHF gold for Canada, seeks NCAA title with Badgers (Photo/David Stluka)

“She’s the cerebral one,” Roger said. “If I have to do a scouting report, I’d say she’s got a very high hockey IQ; does nothing fancy but just gets to the net;  she gets to the open space. She’s always put pucks in the net.”

She was a member of Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the 2013 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship in Finland. She’s among 42 players invited by Hockey Canada earlier this month to participate in its National Women’s Development Team selection camp next month in Calgary.

“The first thing that comes to mind with Sarah is speed,” Badgers Head Coach Mark Johnson said last year. “She is a great skater, very quick and very fast. She also combines her speed with great stick skills and the ability to score. She comes from an athletic family.”

Sarah’s younger brother, Elijah, was a 13th-round pick of the Greyhounds in last April’s OHL draft. A left wing, he scored 6 goals and 4 assists last season for the Hamilton Huskies in Canada’s Alliance Hockey Minor Midget Pavilion League.

Elijah Nurse hopes to follow Cousin Darnell with Greyhounds.

Elijah Nurse hopes to follow Cousin Darnell with Greyhounds.

“He’s undersized, but tough, tough as nails,” Roger Nurse said of his 16-year-old son. “He can go in a corner and get hit by three guys bigger than him and you think he’s dead. Doesn’t miss a shift.”

Then there’s baby brother Issac,  a 15-year-old forward who played last season for the Huskies. Some hockey experts believe that he could be a future OHL first round draft pick.

“I tell him ‘The harder you work, the harder you work on the ice, it’s up you. You can go anywhere from the first round to the 10th round, it all depends how hard you work,'” Roger said. “He’s got the tools. He’s just got to make sure the toolbox is intact, and this is the year to prove it.”

With a house full of high-caliber athlete-children and being athletes themselves, the Nurse adults combine loving understanding with tough love in preaching and teaching  accountability, toughness, and commitment to their offspring. Those were lessons taught to Richard and Roger by their parents, who moved to Canada from Trinidad.

“You play when you’re hurt, you play through injury, you go hard, and don’t show weaknesses,” Roger said. “You don’t sit off. It’s just a mentality we have.”

Asked if all their kids understand the mentality, Richard Nurse, ever the competitor, let out a laugh.

“I think mine have figured it out,” he said. “Roger’s are still working on it.”




Claude and Cassandra Vilgrain, like father, like daughter hockey duo


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The hockey gene kicked in for Cassandra Vilgrain on Feb. 21, 2002.

After watching the Canadian women’s hockey team beat the United States 3-2 for the Gold Medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City on television, Cassandra was overcome by a sensation that she never felt before – the sudden urge to play the game.

“I was figure skating and dancing and all that kind of stuff. I just went to my dad one day, me and my friend, after they won the gold and I said ‘I want to play hockey,'” Cassandra told me from the family home in Calgary, Alberta. “He was kind of taken aback and said ‘Oh, really? That’s great.'”

Dad is Claude Vilgrain, who played 89 National Hockey League games for the Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, and Philadelphia

Claude Vilgrain watches daughter, Cassandra, play hockey and reflects on his career.

Claude Vilgrain watches daughter, Cassandra, play hockey and reflects on his career.

Flyers, skated in eight North American and European hockey leagues, and played for Canada in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

From her 2002 hockey epiphany, to a newbie barely able to stick handle on ice, Cassandra is now a forward for the University of New Hampshire’s NCAA Division I women’s hockey team. She tallied 9 goals and 8 assists in 32 games for the Wildcats last season. She got to Durham, N.H., through good hockey genes and good coaching – both courtesy of Dad.

“My first year of hockey there was no coach and my dad was like ‘Oh, I might as well do it since I’m going to be there anyway,'” Cassandra recalled. “He was really good. He taught me everything I know.”

Claude admits he wasn’t so sure when he first saw his daughter play.

Cassandra Vilgrain wants to go from watching the Winter Olympics on TV  to playing in one.

Cassandra Vilgrain wants to go from watching the Winter Olympics on TV to playing in one.

“I watched her first couple of practices and she could hardly move the puck,” he recalled. “A Thursday I wasn’t there I got a call from my wife, Janet, and she said ‘You should have seen her, she’s flying out there. She’s like Mario Lemieux, blah, blah, blah.’ I said ‘What are you talking about, she can hardly move.’ But Cassandra’s always been a quick skater, a quick learner. She was always the hardest-working player on the ice and still is.”

Having a dad who’s an ex-NHL player as a coach is a plus. Having three former NHLers as coaches is a bonus. Claude had a volunteer parent-coaching staff on Cassandra’s girls teams that included Ron Sutter, – a forward who played for 555 games for the Flyers, St. Louis Blues, San Jose SharksCalgary Flames and other teams, and Kevin Haller, a defenseman who logged 642 games for the Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Anaheim Mighty Ducks and others squads during his NHL career.

“I guess I didn’t realize how cool it actually was, all the experience I got to grasp from them, but I think it definitely helped my game,” Cassandra said. “The best part was, yes, they were parent coaches, but we weren’t their daughters when we were on the ice or on the bench. We were treated the same, professionally, and we learned the game well.”

UNH's Cassandra Vilgrain has her dad's game and number.

UNH’s Cassandra Vilgrain has her dad’s game and number.

As a tribute to her father, Cassandra wears Number 19 at UNH, the same number Claude wore during his NHL career. It gives Claude that “Mini-Me” feeling when he watches Wildcats games online back home in Calgary.

“I see her go on the ice, Number 19, and she turns around and I can see ‘Vilgrain’ on the back, it’s like a ‘Little Claudie’ out there,” he said.

“With a ponytail,” Cassandra added.

“With a ponytail,” Claude chuckled.

 Hairstyle aside, father and daughter say they see similarities in their games, which Cassandra credits to bloodlines and coaching.

“I’m like a playmaker and my dad was always a really good playmaker, passer, kind of a power forward, a force to be reckoned with, kind of hard to knock off the puck,” she said. “I think that’s what I see in my own game.”

While Claude revels in his daughter’s hockey accomplishments, he says he’s just now beginning to fully grasp the significance and impact of his hockey career.  Though raised in Quebec, Claude Vilgrain is the only NHL player born in Haiti – Port-au-Prince in 1963. He became a high-scoring forward for the Laval Voisins of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the University of Moncton, and Canada’s national team in an era before NHL players participated in the Olympics.

Vilgrain played for the Devils, Flyers, and Canucks in his NHL career.

Vilgrain played for the Devils, Flyers, and Canucks in his NHL career.

“One of the first times I realized the impact I had was when I was playing in Switzerland, I got invited to play in the Spangler Cup for Team Canada,” he recalled. “They invited a couple of college kids to play with us. One of those players was Jamal Mayers (who played for the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks before retiring last year), he was a young kid, about 20 then. We were fixing our sticks before the first practice and he came to me and said ‘Hey, Claude, you’re our idol. My friend and I, we were watching you every game when we were playing in the states and it’s an honor playing with you.’ It never dawned on me that there might be some kids watching me. I was a little oblivious to the whole thing.”

By the time Claude made his debut with the Canucks in 1987-88, fellow black players Willie O’Ree, Mike Marson, Bill Riley, Tony McKegneyGrant Fuhr, Val James and Ray Neufeld had preceded him in the NHL. The trail they blazed was still a bumpy one for Claude. By the time he ended his NHL career with the Flyers in 1993-94, Claude totaled 21 goals, 32 assists and 78 penalty minutes in 89 games.

“When I played it wasn’t that easy. I’m not going to say I had a tough time, especially after talking to Willie O’Ree. I’m never going to complain,” he told me. “But I know every time I stepped on the ice, the eyes were turned towards me and they were wondering ‘Is this a black kid?’ It was even worse in Europe, especially when I was on the national team. We would play in places like Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Russia. Every time I stepped on the ice, the looks, the cameras, the interviews. They couldn’t believe there were black hockey players.”

Claude said it thrills him to see the growing number of players of color in the NHL today, especially players like Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds who have starring roles on their teams.

“You’re seeing more kids of color choosing the hockey path.” Claude said. “In Europe, I see Swedish black kids on my ex-team in Switzerland. I check the web sites of different teams in the German league where I played and I see black kids playing, the same thing in junior hockey.”

Cassandra wants to follow in father Claude's skates and play for Canada.

Cassandra wants to follow in father Claude’s skates and play for Canada.

As for Cassandra’s hockey path, both father and daughter hope she’ll follow in the old man’s skates and play for Canada in the Winter Olympics. Cassandra’s still jazzed about 2002 – and about the Gold Medal Canada’s women won at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi – and craves the Olympic experience.

She’s building the credentials: she was assistant captain for Team Alberta at the 2012 Canadian Nationals Under-18 competition and was a member of  the 2011 Team Alberta squad. But she’s yet to receive an invitation to Hockey Canada’s women’s juniors or Olympics prospects camps.

“I wouldn’t say that I was overlooked, but I feel like I could have made an impact in those (Hockey Canada) programs already,” Cassandra said. “I’m hoping to make the Under-22 program and then drive for the Olympics.”

Cassandra's hoping to make an impression at UNH and with Hockey Canada.

Cassandra’s hoping to make an impression at UNH and with Hockey Canada.

Claude said “It’s a little surprising that she never got invited for the U-18 type of thing” but added that “As a former national team member, I won’t mention anything. It’s up to her to find a way. She just has to work harder and make them notice her.”

Cassandra says she’s up for the challenge.

“I just always tell myself I’m going to give them no excuse not to invite me,” she said. “I’m going to play my hardest, do the best I can, and hopefully they see something in me and invite me next year or the year after.”

UP NEXT: Meet the Nurses.




















The Subbans, building a hockey dynasty one child at a time


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Karl Subban remembers the days when he would take his young son, Pernell Karl, ice skating and look around the rink to see if there was anybody else there that looked like them.

“In those days if you saw a black parent or a black person in the arena you would look twice,” he told me recently. “And now you don’t have to look twice anymore, things have changed a lot. Every time I walk into an arena you see minority children and minority parents.”

Things are indeed changing at rinks across North America and around the world, and Karl Subban’s family is a major force helping to facilitate that

P.K. Subban, from skating at age two to millions of dollars as restricted free agent.

P.K. Subban, from skating at age two to millions of dollars as restricted free agent.

change. Young Pernell Karl simply goes by P.K. now and he’s grown into a Norris Trophy-winning, slick-skating superstar defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens.

Brother Malcolm is in the middle, a 2012 Boston Bruins first round draft pick who played his first year of pro hockey last season for the Providence Bruins, Boston’s American Hockey League farm team. Youngest brother Jordan is a defenseman and 2013 Vancouver Canucks fourth-round draft pick, who skated last season for the Ontario Hockey League’s Bellville Bulls – the major junior team that his older brothers played for.

Karl Subban can’t hide a patriarch’s pride that his sons are reaching hockey’s upper echelon. But then, that’s always been the plan.

“We had the dream for these boys to play hockey, not just house league, but at a high level,” the elder Subban said of he and his wife, Maria. “The hardest part is to make it their dream and make them want it more than mom and dad.”

Karl says he reminds P.K, and his brothers that they are “pioneers” who stand on the shoulders of players of color who went before them.

“I look at the work that so many people have done whether it’s Willie O’Ree, or Herb Carnegie and others – Mike Marson, the McKegney brothers, they also paved the way,” he said. “Maybe there was a gap in between. So whether it’s my boys or (Edmonton Oilers prospect Darnell) Nurse, we’re starting to close that gap, especially at the professional level. I say to P.K.  ‘You’re a pioneer, you’re an inspiration and hope for so many.’”

Getting three boys to the pro hockey level isn’t an easy task for any family. For Karl, whose family moved to Canada from Jamaica when he was 11, and wife Maria, whose family arrived in the Great White North from the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat, negotiating the sport initially had its challenges.

“Our connection to hockey is as far as the distances we traveled to Canada,” Karl told me. “That’s the way I sort of summarize it.”

Karl was bitten by the hockey bug as a kid. He learned to skate while growing up in Sudbury, Ontario, and enjoyed watching the Sudbury Wolves play. The team had a talented forward on its roster, Marson, who later became the NHL’s second black player when he was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the team’s inaugural 1974-75 season.

Karl went on to play basketball at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., and went  into teaching upon graduation. But he still had hockey on his mind. He bought P.K. his first pair of skates when he was 2 1/2. By four, the tyke was playing in a house league. About that time, “Maria and I decided he’s going to skate every day,” Karl told me.

Before they were stars, P.K., right, and Malcolm Subban often skated with dad.

Before they were stars, P.K., right, and Malcolm Subban often skated with dad.

That often called for Karl to take P.K. to the rink late at night after he got home from work from two vice principal jobs in Toronto. It also meant that sometimes Maria would put an exhausted P.K. to bed after midnight still dressed in his snowsuit.

It’s a recipe that Karl followed with Malcolm and Jordan and with daughters, Natassia and Natasha, in their athletic endeavors. You see, Karl Subban is a firm believer in practice. He was “Outliers” author Malcolm Gladwell long before Gladwell wrote that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a task.

With that philosophy, Karl Subban isn’t a fan of Allen Iverson. You could almost feel him shaking his head in disbelief over the phone as he recalled the Philadelphia 76ers star point guard’s infamous 2002 rant after being questioned about his practice habits.

“We’re talking about practice?” Iverson said, repeating the P-word 20 times during the course of his discourse. “I mean listen, we’re sitting here talking about practice, not a game, not a game, but we’re talking about practice? Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last but we’re talking about practice, man.”

Fingernails on a blackboard for Karl, a retired public school principal.

“What a wrong message to give kids who are looking up to him. You don’t get better by playing, you get better by practicing,” he told me. “With my boys…I wouldn’t be as upset if they missed a game, but if they missed an opportunity to skate, or to practice, or to shoot pucks, that didn’t sit well with me, that bothered me a tremendous amount.”

Masked man Malcolm Subban in action with Providence Bruins.

Masked man Malcolm Subban in action with Providence Bruins.

Practice and hard work have paid off for Karl’s boys – and will pay off handsomely for P.K. He scored 10 goals and 43 assists in 82 games for the Canadiens last season, ranking fifth among NHL defensemen. During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he tallied 5 goals and 9 assists in 17 games, finishing fourth among defensemen in scoring.

As a restricted free agent, P.K.’s 2013-14 exploits – including logging a whopping 33 minutes of ice time in a Game 4 loss to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final – will likely translate into a long-term deal that exceeds $7 million per-season from Montreal or another team that bids for his services.

“Obviously, everybody wants a long-term deal, in a place where they like to play,” Subban told The Montreal Gazette last month. “But there’s a lot of different things to consider in a contract negotiation. There’s stability for the family. There’s what’s in the best interest of the player and in the best interest of the team, for the organization moving forward.”

“And,” he added, “proper compensation.”

While P.K. waits for an adjustment of digits in his paycheck, Malcolm is adjusting to life as a professional hockey player. In shifting from the OHL to the AHL, Malcolm went from being the main Bull to a back-up Bruin in net. He appeared in 33 games for Providence, won 15 lost 10 and sported a 2.31 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.

He played in six Calder Cup Playoffs games for Providence and came away with a 2-2 record and 2.96 goals-against average.

“It was challenging, to be honest,” Malcolm told “When it’s something you’re not used to, like I’m used to playing a lot of games and being the go-to guy, so it was kind of tough being the secondary guy. But I just had to stay focused mentally. I think that was the hardest thing for me mentally, just to stay focused and earn my way. And you know you don’t play as much, so you know when you get a chance to play you’ve got to play well, and that’s what I tried to do.”

Jordan is waiting for his chance to show what he can do as a pro. He recently attended the Canucks’ prospect camp and impressed the team’s brain

Jordan Subban is waiting for his shot at the NHL. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Jordan Subban is waiting for his shot at the NHL. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

trust. He played 66 games for Bellvelle last season, scoring 12 goals and 30 assists.

“Jordan has high-end offensive skill and you can see, when they do the offensive drills, his ability to handle the puck and get his shot through to the net,” Canucks General Manager Jim Benning told The Ottawa Citizen. “He has really good lateral movement and he can also move the puck up the ice either with a good first pass or skating it out of his own end.”

With his three sons busy pursuing their hockey careers, Karl Subban is still busy building the family’s hockey legacy. He takes his 3-year-old grandson – Legacy Bobb , son of Natassia Subban-Bobb – ice skating often. Legacy’s baby twin brothers, Epic and Honor, will get the same quality time with granddad after Santa delivers them ice skates this Christmas.

“We go out, no hockey stick, no games, use what I did with the boys,” he said of his time with Legacy. “I’m on the ice with him, he never cries. It’s funny, I want him to skate but we never talk about skating. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

UP NEXT: Meet the Vilgrains.


















New neighbors on the block: prominent hockey families of color on the rise


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Hockey has always been a family affair.

Maurice “Rocket” Richard and younger brother Henri “Pocket Rocket” Richard graced the rouge, blanc, et bleu of the Montreal Canadiens. The Howes – seemingly ageless Gordie played with sons Mark and Marty for the defunct World Hockey Association’s Houston Aeros and the National Hockey League’s Hartford Whalers . The Sutters were a hockey team unto themselves: Six brothers – Brent, Brian, Darryl, Duane, and twins Rich and Ron – who collectively played in more than 5,000 NHL games.

Hockey fans today are familiar with the Staal brothers – Eric and Jordan of the Carolina Hurricanes and Marc of the New York

U of New Hampshire's Cassandra Vilgrain learned hockey from dad, ex-NHLer Claude Vilgrain.

U of New Hampshire’s Cassandra Vilgrain learned hockey from dad, ex-NHLer Claude Vilgrain.

 Rangers – and identical twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks.

But there are also new families on the block who symbolize the changing face of hockey, and this week the Color of Hockey looks at some of their stories.

In many ways, their hockey journeys aren’t that different from other famous hockey clans who wore out family cars shuttling kids from one hockey tournament to the next, fretted about the high cost of equipment, and watched their sons and daughters blossom from pee wee to pro and college players. But in other ways, their paths to building hockey legacies are unique.

“Ice hockey has defined my family as individuals and as Canadians,” Karl Subban,  Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban’s dad, told the Institute for Canadian Citizenship last month. Karl’s parents moved to Canada from Jamaica in the 1970s while the family of his wife, Maria, relocated from Montserrat. “An airplane moved us to Canada and hockey moved us from new Canadians to Canadians.”

With big brother P.K.  in the NHL,  Providence Bruins' Malcolm Subban waits for his shot at the league.  Youngest brother Jordan is also waiting in the wings in Vancouver's system.

With big brother P.K. in the NHL, Providence Bruins’ Malcolm Subban waits for his shot at the league. Youngest brother Jordan is also waiting in the wings in Vancouver’s system.

This week, we’ll profile the Subbans – Montreal’s P.K., Boston Bruins goaltending prospect Malcolm, and 2013 Canucks defensive draftee Jordan; the Vilgrains – former NHL player Claude and his daughter, Cassandra, a University of New Hampshire hockey player; and the Nurses – Darnell, the Edmonton Oilers’ 2013 first round draft pick, cousin Sarah, who plays for the University of Wisconsin, and her brother, Elijah, a draft pick of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Darnell’s Ontario Hockey League major junior team.

Up NEXT: The Subbans









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