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Canada’s Sarah Nurse keeps up family’s sporting tradition

Watching the nightly sports-wrap broadcasts becomes a bit of a family affair for Sarah Nurse, who will skate for Canada against the United States on Monday in the women’s hockey Rivalry Series game at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
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Sarah Nurse practises with the Canada team at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on Saturday.

Watching the nightly sports-wrap broadcasts becomes a bit of a family affair for Sarah Nurse, who will skate for Canada against the United States on Monday in the women’s hockey Rivalry Series game at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

“I sit and watch SportsCentre and there’s a cousin here and a cousin there and brother there. It’s just another day for us,” said Nurse.

Cousin and two-time NCAA champion with UConn, Kia Nurse, is a standout with the world No. 4 Canadian women’s national basketball team and will try to win a medal at the 2020 Summer Olympics this year in Tokyo to match, perhaps even better, the silver medal Sarah Nurse won in hockey at the Winter Olympics in 2018 at Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Sarah’s cousin Darnell Nurse won gold with Canada at the world juniors and is a defenceman in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers, while her brother Isaac Nurse plays major-junior with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League. Cousin Tamika Nurse led Canada in under-19 basketball and played in the NCAA for the Oregon Ducks and Bowling Green.

Sarah’s dad, Roger Nurse, played lacrosse and refereed in the NLL and OLA, uncle Richard Nurse was a six-season wide receiver for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL and uncle Donovan McNabb quarterbacked the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl. Aunt Raquel McNabb was a star NCAA basketball player and two-time team MVP at Syracuse University.

“I’m proud of my family, and I know my grandma is, too,” said Sarah Nurse.

“We were blessed with skills. But it also took a lot of hard work.”

Sarah Nurse and her Canadian teammates lost the first two games of the Rivalry Series to the Americans in December — 4-1 in Hartford, Connecticut, and 2-1 in Moncton, N.B. — and must sweep the remaining three games Monday at the Memorial Centre, Wednesday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver and Feb. 8 in Anaheim, California, in order to win the series.

Micah Zandee-Hart of Saanichton, the lone B.C. player on the Canadian team, played in the first two games, but won’t be available for the remaining games of the series because of schooling and NCAA commitments at Cornell University.

The Rivalry Series is compelling because most Olympic finals and world championships in women’s hockey have come down to the U.S. and Canada, with the Americans having the upper hand in the majority of recent events.

“It’s a fierce rivalry,” said Nurse, a tenacious five-foot-eight forward.

“We relish the competition against the Americans. Both teams bring it every time they meet.”

It will be no different Monday night on Blanshard.

Meanwhile, while cousin Kia Nurse plays pro hoops in the WNBA, that is the sort of opportunity so far denied female hockey players. But they are heartened by recent talk of a possible WNHL.

“It’s incredibly important,” said Sarah Nurse.

“We have built up girls’ hockey at the youth level and you can go to play in college,” said the NCAA University of Wisconsin Badgers graduate.

“But where from there?”

Women drop out of hockey, Nurse noted, if they don’t make their national team. If they see a pro club opportunity, they wouldn’t drop out of the sport in their prime.

“But pro is not an option right now. I hope that it will become one,” she said.

Maybe pro hockey will become an opportunity for the Island girls’ players who took part in a youth clinic conducted by the Canadian team players Saturday at the Memorial Centre.

It is that demographic of young, female players that has assured Monday night’s Canada-U.S. fixture is a sellout.

“It’s amazing to have so many young girl players around,” said Canadian forward Natalie Spooner, who won a Winter Olympics gold medal at Sochi 2014 and an Olympic silver at Pyeongchang 2018.

“I hope we can inspire them. It’s so cool it is sold out. This crowd in Victoria is going to be amazing.”

ICE CHIPS: Canada last month replaced head coach Perry Pearn with assistant Troy Ryan, who will be bench boss Monday in Victoria with the 2020 world championships in Nova Scotia looming this spring and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics slowly rounding into view.

Ryan is being mentored by former University of Victoria Vikes basketball coaching legend Ken Shields as part of the Own the Podium coaching mentorship program.

“It has been awesome to pick Ken Shields’ brain. He has such a winning mentality,” said Ryan, who has been meeting with Canadian Sports Hall of Famer Shields all week.

“Ken has the right mix of old school and modern vision and way of thinking.”

About a lightning-rod recent issue in coaching, Ryan added: “Ken has taught me you can push people to be better but that it’s all about building relationships and trust with them.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com