There’s no blueprint on how to reach the Olympic Winter Games.
Some players put in the time, gaining experience at major events like the 4
Nations Cup and IIHF Women’s World Championship before breaking through
onto the biggest stage in sports.
Some players burst onto the scene a little more quickly, taking advantage
of raw talent to make their Olympic dreams a reality right around the same
time they’re first eligible to vote.
And some, like Sarah Nurse, do things their own way, following a different
road to Team Canada.
The 22-year-old doesn’t have as flashy of an international résumé as some
of her teammates, but there she is on the ice in Calgary, one of 28 vying
for 23 spots on Canada’s National Women’s Team next February in
Nurse is one of only four players on the centralization roster – along with
2014 Olympic gold medallist Mélodie Daoust, Amy Potomak and Micah
Zandee-Hart – who has never played at a women’s worlds, and she has just
four senior appearances to her name, all at the 2015 4 Nations Cup.
But the Hamilton, Ont., native has still been getting an international
education, just not under the brightest lights in the game. Nurse thinks
what she has done in recent years – in the national program and outside of
it – is what is keeping her in the Olympic conversation.
“I definitely think I’ve taken a different path, being with [Canada’s
National Women’s Development Team] instead of the senior team for the last
few years,” Nurse says. “There were certain things Hockey Canada wanted me
to focus on; I think I’ve done a pretty good job at working on those habits
and those little details, and that is what has got me here.”
She has been a mainstay with the development side since 2014, playing 21
games over the last three seasons and winning gold and silver at the
Nations Cup while averaging almost a point per game (7-12—19 in 21 GP).
And she benefited from being part of a successful college program at the
University of Wisconsin, reaching the NCAA Frozen Four in each of her four
seasons and earning Second Team All-American honours as a senior last year.
So the individual and team successes are there. Now comes taking the next
step, and hanging with the best.
“I don’t think [not playing at major events] puts me at a disadvantage, it
just puts me in a different spot,” Nurse says. “Other girls have had
different opportunities than I have, and that’s fine, but I think now we’re
on an even playing field, and we have the next few months to get ready for
The key is that “even playing field.” Centralization is less ‘What have you
done for me lately?’ than ‘What can you do for me now?’ and Nurse knows
exactly what she has to offer Team Canada.
She has played on the top line and scored goals (she was second in the NCAA
in 2016-17 with 25) and she has played in the bottom six and focused on her
defensive game. And her experience means she understands the pressures of
selection camps and national championship games, and everything in between.
Think of her as a Jill-of-all-trades, if you will.
“I’ve learned that I’m a versatile player,” Nurse says. “I’ve played many
different roles for Team Canada since I started, and I think my progression
shows coaches I can play different positions, and whatever position or
situation they throw me in I want to be able to go into those situations
The chance to go to the Olympics comes around only once every four years,
and it may not come again. For Nurse, as for the rest of her teammates,
there can be no what-ifs.
All she wanted was a chance, and now that she has it…
“It’s incredibly important to take advantage of any opportunity to wear the
Maple Leaf. I want that opportunity, and I want that chance.”