For those of you from the MonkeySports Podcast, thank you for checking out the blog! For our consistent blog-readers, long story short, our audio for the Off the Ice podcast episode with Sarah Nurse was no good, so here’s the interview in it’s entirety. Be sure to use promo code Podcast10 for 10% off your order at HockeyMonkey.com!
Coming off of an incredibly busy summer with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association, Team Canada’s Sarah Nurse joined us on the MonkeySports Podcast to give us some insight on the PWHPA and what they’ve been up to.
“The PWHPA came out of having our professional league, the CWHL, folding last year. We came together, about 200 women, and we formed the players association. We wanted to basically bring women’s hockey everywhere. We wanted to get more media exposure, we wanted to be playing in front of more people, we just really wanted to put a product out there,” Nurse said.
With most of the players in the CWHL representing their countries at the national level, the PWHPA was built to further the growth of women’s hockey around the world.
“It was pretty interesting because when we found out the CWHL folded, a lot of the national team players were out at the World Championships in Finland last year so we were worried about playing for our country and playing for a championship, then our league collapses. In that moment, we kind of had to band together and think of a solution. We had a lot of support from the girls who weren’t at the World Championships, they spearheaded that and figured out what was going to go on. We issued a statement saying that we were very disappointed and that we wanted to see women’s hockey grow, so we were going to do that in the best way that we knew possible, so we formed that players association. Even though we had played against each other for years and years, we all want that same goal and want growth for women’s hockey.”
This past summer, the PWHPA put together the “Dream Gap Tour” to help spread the women’s game and make the dream of being a professional women’s hockey player a reality for the next generation of female players.
“We actually had 6 stops this year, all over North America, so we had a pretty busy year being in Toronto, Chicago, Philadelphia, (and) Arizona. We have regional teams, so we play each other or play some boys teams, then we come together for little stops on our tour and have had great support from NHL member clubs, most recently being the Philadelphia Flyers and Arizona Coyotes. We’ve had a lot of success this year and it’s been a long year, but it’s been great to wrap up and look forward to next year.” Nurse said. “We decided to call it the Dream Gap Tour because when we shared our stories with each other during all the brainstorming in the early stages of the PWHPA forming, we realized that there’s really a gap between little boys’ dreams of playing professional hockey and little girls’ dreams of playing professional hockey. We don’t want that, we want little girls to be able to say ‘I want to be a professional hockey player one day,’ and we don’t want people to shut them down or ask them, ‘okay, but what else are you going to actually do as your real job?’ We want them to dream and to aspire to be hockey players like we are today, and so that’s why we decided to call it the Dream Gap Tour.”
Nurse says that too many great hockey players have to choose between playing hockey or going into the “real world”, and the goal of the PWHPA is to cut that number down and keep girls playing hockey as long as possible.
“Ultimately we want to have a sustainable women’s hockey league where the women get paid to play hockey. We don’t want girls dropping out of hockey in high school or in university, even after university. Female sports are crucial for female development, teamwork, building skills, all that, so we didn’t want girls dropping the sport. There are too many good hockey players who stop playing because they have to choose between a job or playing hockey, and we don’t want professional women’s hockey to be a hobby, we want it to be a profession. Ultimately, that’s what we want to do, and we are definitely taking steps to get there. We know that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but we are definitely working on it and hopefully that is our end result.”
It wasn’t until Nurse was selected to the Canadian National Team that the idea of playing hockey as a full-time career made itself more of a reality, leading her to want to make that dream more attainable for the next generation of players.
“It was honestly when I was chosen to be on the Olympic team. The year before the Olympics they actually chose 28 of us to move to Calgary and try out for the Olympic team before ultimately cutting it down to 23. That was kind of my turning point in the sense that, if I hadn’t gotten chosen for that, I don’t know if I would’ve continued playing hockey because again, you have to choose between paying the bills or playing hockey. Once I got chosen to do that and I made that team, it opened my eyes to the fact that if I hadn’t gotten chosen, I don’t know where I’d be. That’s crazy because I’m confident in myself and think that I’m a very good hockey player, but the fact that I’d have to choose between playing hockey and not playing hockey was insane. I think of so many girls that have to do that now because you know, if you’re not on a national team, your value as a hockey player is not deemed as equal as the girls on the national team, which is sad because obviously you want to play hockey in the Olympic games and want to play it because you have fun, but in the back of your mind there are so many things that are involved with making that 23-man roster. I think about all the girls who are fortunate enough to have sponsorships. If you’re not a part of that 23-man roster, your sponsorships could be taken away. There are things that we get to do out in our community, and they want the girls on the national team because those are the only female hockey players that people see. They don’t see any other female hockey player, so that’s where that visibility component comes in. There’s only 23 of us who are seen in Canada as women’s hockey players when, in reality, there’s so many more.”
Coming from a very athletic family including NHL player Darnell Nurse, WNBA player Kia Nurse, and NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, Sarah chose to focus on hockey, hoping it would one day become a full-time career for her.
“For me, I think I played hockey for so long just because I love the sport. That was the sport that I was best at, and everyone in my family played sports, so hockey was the one that I chose. I even remember when my parents were telling the rest of my family about playing hockey and where I was going with hockey, and you know they really tried to drive home that education came first because at the end of the day, especially at that time, there wasn’t an option for women to play hockey professionally. They really drove home the need for education because I was going to need a quote, un-quote ‘real job’. Even though they were so supportive of me trying out for the Olympic team and getting to the highest possible level there is for women, there definitely was that thought in the back of their minds that hockey wasn’t going to be the thing that was paying the bills.”
A native of Toronto, Ontario, Nurse was given plenty of opportunity to play college hockey, ultimately choosing to take her talents to the University of Wisconsin.
“I was fortunate during my recruiting process in the fact that I was recruited by a lot of schools. I actually kind of had my pick from the field in the sense that I could kind of go where I really wanted to. At that point, school wasn’t my top priority. It was for my parents, but it wasn’t at the top of my list, so when we were looking at schools, it was, what has a mix of a great education, a good hockey program, and what was really important to me was, I wanted a big school, so that narrowed it down. I wanted a big football program, I wanted a basketball program, I wanted to sit in a class with 400 people, that’s what I was looking for and that’s what I wanted, so when I looked at Wisconsin, they had just won the national championship, they are one of the best public universities in the nation, they had one of the best business schools which is what I graduated with, and then they were a Big 10 school, so it really checked all of those boxes for me. At the end of the day, I look back and kind of had a tough decision, but it was truly a no-brainer looking back.”
A four-year contributor for the Badgers, Nurse’s career at Wisconsin helped jump-start her national stardom, but she’ll always remember her time in Madison.
“Honestly me and anyone in women’s hockey have people coming at us saying we don’t have fans or have support, but at Wisconsin, we broke attendance records every single year that I was there. Our arena seated 2,500 people, and we sold it out probably 85% of my college career. Just being able to skate out and see everybody cheering for you and hearing how loud it got, I remember one time walking out of our NCAA playoff game and there were people outside lined up before the players got there, and they were people standing outside scalping our tickets, so that was pretty cool for a women’s hockey game where people don’t people watch. My experience (at Wisconsin) was unforgettable and I’d advise everybody who has the opportunity to go to Wisconsin to go because you won’t get any better than that.”
After her prolific career, Nurse was invited to try out for Team Canada to represent her home country at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“(The tryout process) was the most interesting and strange experience I’ve probably ever had. Looking back on it, it’s crazy because they bring 28 of us to Calgary and we have to play on the same team together, so we’re basically cheering each other on and have to be teammates, but at the end of the day, 5 of us are going to be released from that team so in a sense you’re competing with everyone on the team as well. It’s pretty interesting, it was definitely a rigorous year. We actually played in the AAA Boy’s League and were part of that, so we played some 50 or 60 games before the team was put together, so it was definitely a rigorous year. A lot of training, but the payoff is incredible. You got to go to the Olympics, and ultimately that’s every one of our dreams because that’s what we saw growing up. We saw people going to the Olympics, so it was hard but definitely all worth it.”
Team Canada took home the Silver Medal in 2018, with Nurse contributing a goal during their run.
“(The Olympics) was so cool. I think the Olympics is one of the most unique events in the entire world. You have so many athletes from so many different backgrounds and cultures that are all so successful in their individual sports, so you go to the dining hall and see everybody from every country and there’s so much success and so much talent in that room and you’re sitting with people who think that you’re absolutely amazing but you look back at them and think ‘you are absolutely incredible’. You see how these athletes work and how they train and how they focus and prepare for their individual events and it’s so cool. There’s so much more around the world. At the end of the day, we’re part of Team Canada and even though I’ve been a part of a team and played a team sport my entire life, to be there with figure skaters and skiers and speed skaters for example was so cool. We were part of this huge Team Canada, and we felt that love from home too.”
“Our event was pretty long, we’d go from when the games start to almost the finish, but after our tournament ended, the men’s tournament was still going on so that was really cool because everyone is pretty much done by that point so when (the men’s hockey team) played in their bronze medal game, we just absolutely packed the stadium. We were having so much fun, we had no way of getting home after the game, so we ended up like hijacking this bus and taking it through Korea. We had no idea where it was going, we were trying to talk to bus driver who didn’t speak any English, we were walking through the streets, people were climbing light poles, it was absolutely crazy. It was so fun to be a part of that because we were literally chanting out ‘Canada’ and signing ‘Oh, Canada’ through the streets so it was really cool.”
A CCM sponsored athlete, Nurse was fortunate enough to receive a sponsorship opportunity after her Olympic run.
“I had actually never used CCM products until I went to university. At Wisconsin, we were a completely CCM school, so I had to wear CCM, then obviously when I wore the equipment and got used to it, I really liked it. Going into the Olympic year, even though they’re not a Hockey Canada sponsor, they were willing to provide me with the gear and equipment. I had established connections through my college career that had continued through the Olympic year, then after the Olympic year they offered to sign me which was pretty awesome because I knew that they were not a Hockey Canada sponsor but they saw the value in me and I see the value in them and I think that they’re a great brand to work with.”
While she’s admittedly not the biggest “gear head”, Nurse knows when she finds something she likes, and trusts CCM to get the best out of her equipment.
“I’m somewhere in the middle because once I find what I like, it’s what I like, but when I’m trying things out, I’m willing to try anything. Even my CCM rep has said like I’ve tried so many different sticks mid-season. Different patterns, different curves, different types of sticks like with CCM, I’ve gone back and forth between RibCore and Tacks because I kind of like them both, so I think I’m willing to try anything but definitely once I find something I like, I stick with it.”
“For my sticks, I’m into the Tacks right now. I really really like how that one shoots, I think the puck flies off my stick there, but for everything else, I’m pretty much in the FT2 Jetspeed line. It was funny, I was looking at my equipment and was like, ‘dang, I’m just one brand, all in on the Jetspeed’ so I love it.”