Trials of an Only One | Wisconsin a good fit for hockey forward

Only-OneThis column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.

Sarah Nurse assisted on Sydney McKinnon’s second period goal in Wisconsin’s 1-0 league championship win Sunday over Minnesota.

Sarah Nurse
Sarah Nurse

“I think every time we play them, it’s an even match-up,” said the junior forward afterwards. It is the Badgers’ second consecutive WCHA tourney crown, and Nurse has had a key hand in both of them as well as reaching the Frozen Four the last two seasons.

After her second period goal in a 5-0 win Saturday, at U-M’s Ridder Arena, we couldn’t help but notice Nurse’s father and aunt standing below the press box, cheering Wisconsin’s only Black player.

“One of the good things about it is she made a move that is hard for a lot of players,” said Roger Nurse of his daughter’s nifty backhanded move to the net.  “That shows hard work and she put in the time.”

Roger Nurse and his sister Raquel McNabb, wife of retired NFL quarterback Donavon McNabb, were in the stands — the only Blacks i attendance last weekend. They flew in to Minneapolis this past weekend to see the junior forward play in the WCHA Final Face-Off semifinals and against host Minnesota in Sunday’s finals.  The Hamilton, Ontario native leads the Badgers in goals and shots on goal, and tied for third in power play goals.

When told by this reporter that he searches for other Blacks at hockey games, Roger responded, “So do I.”

He added, “It’s a little bit different in Canada.”  He and his brother used to be the only Blacks on the rink and field growing up, respectively, as they played hockey and lacrosse. “My family came to Canada in 1970. We’ve gotten used to being the only ones around. This is nothing uncommon.”

Sarah Nurse (in middle 2)
Sarah Nurse (in the middle, #16)

Sarah Nurse is third in the nation in shots on goal, seventh in goals per game, and eighth nationally in five game-winning goals — this season she scored the Badgers’ first two game winning goals to open the year 2-0.

She was among three Wisconsin players honored as WCHA Offensive Player of the Week, and was named to the all-conference third team.

When she wraps up her UW career next season, the 5-8 Nurse will be among the school’s career records in goals, game-winning goals and short-handed goals.  Already in her trophy case are the 2015 WCHA Most Outstanding Player, two gold medals as a member of Team Ontario Red (2011), the Under-18 women’s world championships in 2013, and a 2012 bronze medal for Team Ontario Red.

Although both Michigan and Michigan State were miles closer to Nurse’s Hamilton, Ontario home, neither school has women’s hockey, and Ohio State’s hockey program is still evolving.

Roger Nurse
Roger Nurse

As a result, the Badgers meet her expectations: “She wanted a big school to get that full college experience,” explained her father on why she chose Wisconsin for college.  “She wanted a program, a good school and a good education.  She also wanted a hockey program that could win.  She wanted the atmosphere — they play in front of 2,000 people a night like here at Ridder.  You don’t get that experience back east or playing anywhere. It’s a good place for her,” said Roger.

When asked about Sarah playing pro hockey after her Badgers career concludes — the NWHL is in its inaugural season this year — Roger replied, “We talked about it.  It all comes down to if she is going to do post-graduate and where she is at the time.

“Number one priority is to finish school, and once she finishes school, get her life together.  Although she likes the opportunity to play [pro hockey] and the Olympics, her priorities still is to get a degree and use it.”

Finally, on his daughter’s on-ice success Roger said, “It’s nerve-racking in the sense that this is her third year at Wisconsin.  They’ve been to the Frozen Four twice and they won the conference last year.  They won the regular season [title this year].  You want to see her succeeding and get all the accolades.

(l-r) Racquel Nurse and Roger Nurse
(l-r) Raquel McNabb and Roger Nurse

“She fell in love with hockey as a young child,” he continued. “She plays, her brothers plays — when they are home, they play on the ice together. Sports has always been a big part. It’s been a real good experience for us as a family,” concluded her father.

When asked if any bragging rights between herself and one of her uncles, football great McNabb, Nurse replied with a smile, “I’ve never seen him on the ice. I think he’d say I’m better on the ice.

“He definitely is proud of all of my achievements. He and my aunt [Raquel] are big supporters. It’s been awesome having them in my back corner,” she said proudly.


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