GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA Sarah Nurse went top shelf and her father went over the moon.
Nurse, a forward for the Canadian women’s hockey team, fired a wrist shot that bounced off United States goaltender Maddie Rooney’s right shoulder and found a small hole on the short side of the net. It proved to be the difference-maker in a 2-1 contest against the two best teams at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Nurse’s goal at 14:56 of the second period gave Canada a 2-0 lead. U.S. forward Kendall Coyne scored early in the third period but Canadian goaltender Genevieve Lacasse withstood an onslaught of U.S. shots – stopping 44 – to preserve the win.
“We played a full 60 minutes and I think we have some things to improve on, but we’re definitely confident in where we’re at and where we’re going,” Nurse told reporters after the game.
Nurse’s tally was her first Olympic goal. She was named to the Canadian team after she completed a collegiate career at the NCAA Division I University of Wisconsin where she tallied 76 goals and 61 assists in 150 games.
She’s the Badgers’ eighth all-time leading scorer, keeping company with the likes of U.S. stars Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight, who are also playing in PyeongChang seeking Olympic gold.
Her father was feeling somewhat anxious before Canada’s match against its arch-rival for international women’s hockey supremacy. He felt exalted when his daughter’s shot went in the net.
“I’m still trying to come down,” he told me between periods following the goal.
For Roger and his wife, Michelle Nurse, watching their daughter represent Canada in Pyeongchang triggered memories of how it all began.
“We did a lot of long car rides (to tournaments), me and Sarah. At one point, we’re driving all over North America,” Roger Nurse told me. “For me and Sarah in the car, we laugh, tell a lot of jokes, trying to make the ride shorter. That’s kind of what we’ve been doing since she was 7 years old.”
Sarah reflected on her hockey journey, too. She posted a tweet prior to the Olympic hockey tournament thanking her dad for doing the things that enabled her to play the game.
Thank you for giving me every opportunity to reach me dreams. For driving all over North America & for working nonstop to put every penny into my hockey career.
To the one who put me on those double blades at 3 and never let me look back.. Dad, thank you ❤️#WeAllPlayForCanada pic.twitter.com/hVxWm1NaXx
— Sarah Nurse (@nursey16) February 10, 2018
But for all her success, Sarah and her parents never fully knew where she stood with Hockey Canada. Last year was Sarah’s first centralizaton – or tryout – camp with Canada’s national team from which the Olympic squad was picked.
“There are some kids who just smooth through – they’re the best player, they go to every camp, every event, every Four Nations (tournament), every worlds tournament,” Roger Nurse told me. “For Sarah, it was kind of a fight. No matter how good you thought she was, no matter how well you thought she was doing, it was a fight.”
“And, you, know, she’s still standing, and that’s a great testament to her ability to fight through it,” he added.
Part of that resilience comes from being part of a highly-competitive family. Sarah’s cousins are Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse and University of Connecticut women’s basketball point guard Kia Nurse, who played hoops for Canada at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Sarah’s younger brothers are hockey players: Issac Nurse plays right wing for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League. Elijah Nurse is a left wing for the Dundas Blues of Canada’s Provincial Junior Hockey League.
Her father was a renowned Canadian lacrosse player. Her uncle Richard Nurse – Darnell and Kia’s father – was a wide receiver for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. Former National Football League quarterback Donovan McNabb is an uncle.
Sarah Nurse told CBC Sports that she’s proud of her family’s athletic roots stressed that “I’m here to create my own path.”
It’s something that Roger Nurse’s children occasionally have to remind him of when he’s dispensing hockey advice.
“I’d say something to her about a game she’d play at Wisconsin, she’d look at me and say ‘Dad, you never played a game of NCAA hockey,'” Roger Nurse said. “And Issac would say to me ‘Dad, you never played one game in the Ontario Hockey League.’ Point taken.”
These days, Roger Nurse keeps his advice simple.
“‘Go have fun, step up, and do what you have to do,'” he tells them.
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