After competing in her first Olympics, Hamilton, Ont., native Sarah Nurse is now preparing to sign her first professional contract. Nurse completed her eligibility with the Wisconsin Badgers upon her graduation in 2017. She then focused her energy on making Team Canada’s 2018 Olympic roster.
In her first Olympic Games, Nurse scored the game-winning goal against the United States in the preliminary round of the PyeongChang Winter Games. The next matchup between the hockey powerhouses went to a six-round shootout with the gold medal on the line. Canada fell to the United States for the first time since the 1998 Olympics.
Despite the loss, the gold medal match was a highlight of Nurse’s first Olympic Games. “During the gold medal game, when we scored to go up 2-1, it was kind of like, ‘Wow this is this is crazy!’ This is the kind of rivalry and this is the kind of game you wait to be in and that you want to be in,” she told The Ice Garden back in March.
Nurse earned a silver medal with Team Canada and had her Olympic jersey sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame. “I found out the other day my jersey is in the Hockey Hall of Fame in the diversity section,” Nurse said shortly after returning home from South Korea. Nurse, who proudly identifies as black and white, is eager to be a role model for other players of color in hockey.
Being in the Hockey hall is an honor, but when Nurse first heard the news she was confused. Fellow Hockey Canada teammate Brigette Lacquette—the first-ever First Nations woman to represent Hockey Canada in the Olympics—reached out to Nurse after reading they both would have Olympic artifacts in the Hall. Her first thought was, “I have that jersey, it’s in my room right now [laughs]!” It turns out the Team Canada equipment staff swapped out one of her original sweaters to send to Toronto. “We had to do a little digging on that one, but we figured it all out.”
Signing in the Pros
“When you play high-level hockey it’s kind of a full-time job. It’s hard to have a normal job and be asking for vacation four times a year for two or three weeks at a time.”
Now that the Olympic Games are complete, Nurse is looking forward to playing professionally. She was drafted eighth overall by the Boston Pride in the 2016 NWHL college draft. Should she play in the NWHL, Nurse would join nine fellow draft picks to ink an NWHL contract, including Badgers teammate Jenny Ryan (Metropolitan Riveters).
However, Nurse has officially registered for the CWHL draft. Only recently has a Hockey Canada hopeful or active player joined the NWHL. Shannon Szabados seems the exception to an unwritten rule that Team Canada players play professionally anywhere but in America.
When we asked Nurse months ago about her professional plans, she stated, “I’m definitely going to continue playing. I’m still young and I think I still have a lot to give. I’m going to continue playing, and you’ll [laughs] have to stay tuned to see where I end up.” I pictured a wry smile on her face as she answered what I’m sure is a question plenty of women’s hockey fans are desperate to get an answer for.
When asked what factors will contribute to her ultimate decision, the soon-to-be rookie stated, “I think for me is first and foremost, when am I going to develop most as a player?”
While Nurse recently competed in her first Olympics, she certainly hopes it won’t be her last. Canada will host and compete in the 2018 Four Nations Tournament in November and compete in the 2019 IIHF World Championships in Finland come April 2019; Nurse intends to continue representing Team Canada at those tournaments.
With all of these roster slots as short-term goals, Nurse must also think about what is realistic from a compensation — or, more realistically, an opportunity cost — perspective.
“When you play high-level hockey it’s kind of a full-time job. It’s hard to have a normal job and be asking for vacation four times a year for two or three weeks at a time. So definitely money is an issue, and although it’s gotten so much better since I’ve even started college — with the leagues compensating players — that’ll definitely ... have a little weight in my decision.”
A young, talented player like Nurse likely will have many options across North America and beyond. At the end of the day, the decision on where she will sign will be the result of an imperfect formula. From salaries to amenities, no two professional teams are the same. Even as an Olympic medalist, Nurse, like those before her, will likely have to pay out of pocket (or get a sponsor) for the things she needs to elevate her game to the next level.
However, overall Nurse is grateful, “There are a ton of different places where you can play women’s hockey in Europe and in North America. I’m excited for the next opportunity for me.”