On the Wisconsin women’s hockey team, it can sometimes be difficult to stand out. Last season the team averaged 3.9 goals and over 40 shots on goal per game. It takes more than pure goal scoring skill to separate yourself from the pack. Even in this competitive environment, Sarah Nurse stood head and shoulders above the rest.
Though not the team’s leading scorer (that honor belonged to Annie Pankowski), Nurse was the most dominant presence on the ice. When she comes over the boards, you pay attention. Even if she doesn’t have the puck, it soon becomes nearly impossible to not be looking in her direction.
Nurse is one of those generational players who can simply do things other players can’t. She creates plays out of thin air. She forces herself into spaces that other players would give up on. Take a look at this goal she scored in the WCHA Championship game last season.
This is the type of play you can expect every game from Sarah Nurse. The speed, the slick footwork, the smooth hands - she has it all.
Nurse completed her college career this past season, playing all four years at Wisconsin. After earning 21 points in her rookie campaign, she steadily improved in every metric each season. Her explosive senior season landed her tied for seventh in the NCAA scoring race, finishing with a career-high 53 points (25g, 28a) and recognition as a Second-Team All-American.
Nurse was the only player in the top 18 of NCAA scoring to have three shorthanded goals on the season, speaking to her creativity on the ice and her ability to make things happen where others couldn’t.
On Dec. 4, in front of a sold-out crowd in Madison, WI, Nurse became the first ever Badger to score a hat trick against their biggest rival, the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Legends such as Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, and Meghan Duggan have tried and failed to accomplish this feat. Sarah Nurse stands alone.
Goal Badgers. It's a hat trick for Sarah Nurse to make it 5-2 Wisconsin with 18:06 to go in the second period.— Minnesota W Hockey (@GopherWHockey) December 4, 2016
Her international accomplishments, however, have yet to begin in earnest. In 2013, Nurse was part of the gold-medal winning Canadian team at the U18 Women’s World Championship, though she was kept mostly to the third line. She recorded one point in the tournament, a shorthanded goal against Germany. Nurse has since been on the rosters for two Nations Cups and one 4 Nations Cup.
This year, Nurse was finally given her shot and was named to the Hockey Canada centralization roster in preparation for the 2018 Olympics. Nurse had never before appeared on a senior World Championship roster, and now she is a heartbeat away from the sport’s biggest stage.
Canada’s final roster has yet to be determined, and the country waits with bated breath to see what Laura Schuler will decide. The disappointing loss to the USA in the 2017 World Championship made it clear that Canada is simply outpaced by their American rivals. Nurse could be the answer. She has the speed to keep up with the Americans, and she has the creativity to find holes in their system.
At the very least, Nurse should be on Canada’s penalty kill. She’s aggressive enough to break up the opposing power play, and her nose for shorthanded goals will force her opponents to play a little more conservatively. Canada could even build off the chemistry that Nurse and Emily Clark have been building for the past three years at Wisconsin.
Regardless of what happens with Hockey Canada, Nurse has a bright future in professional hockey. She was drafted eighth overall by the Boston Pride in the 2016 NWHL Draft, and did not register for the CWHL draft this year, likely focusing entirely on her Olympic bid. Nurse could be a top-six forward on most of the professional teams in North America, so her options are wide open.
Is this ranking too high or too low?
Sarah Nurse gets a decent amount of credit for her college career, but she has never gotten the credit she deserves. She has never made the All-WCHA First Team, despite being named to the WCHA All-Tournament Team, All-WCHA Rookie Team, and once earning the title of WCHA Final Faceoff Most Outstanding Player.
That being said, I think this ranking is just right for Nurse. Had she been given a larger role in her national team appearances, I think we’d have seen her make more of an impact and her ranking would be higher. For the data we have and the chances she’s been given, seventh is a fair ranking.
Keep in mind though, Nurse is only 22 years old. She will be back in next year’s ranking, and she will be back with a vengeance. It would be a big surprise to see her finish outside of the top five again, but much of that hinges on what happens in PyeongChang.