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Sault Ste. Marie's Nurse offers smarts, physicality

by Mike G. Morreale /

Defenseman Darnell Nurse of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds knows that those curious NHL scouts coming to see him play not only expect a steady game along the back end, but a fairly physical one.

"At 6-foot-4 and 189 pounds, I have to use every pound that I have … it's kind of expected being this size," Nurse told "You have to be someone who is hard to play against, and that's something I enjoy.

"When a player skates down his wing, looks up and sees me, I want them to say, 'Oh God, I have to go against him again.'"

Scouts have already seen that trait in Nurse.

Nurse assisted by NFL QB McNabb

Sault Ste. Marie defenseman Darnell Nurse has been surrounded by athletes his entire life.

It's no wonder he's privy to all the hype that accompanies the spotlight of his chosen future profession.

Nurse, No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary list for skaters in the Ontario Hockey League, also knows the importance of training and staying physically fit.

"From a physical standpoint, being able to work out with guys who've been through the experiences, as well as being in a house with so many competitors, is great," Nurse told "But the three biggest people, to be honest, are my parents [Richard and Cathy] and Uncle Donovan [McNabb]."

That's the same Donovan McNabb who spent 13 seasons in the NFL, including 11 with the Philadelphia Eagles. Darnell's aunt, Raquel Nurse, is married to McNabb.

"My parents have supported me, financially, and at the same time drove me back and forth from Toronto for five years and put me in a position where I can be successful," Darnell said. "They gave me the tools.

"My uncle has always been there for me. No matter if I had a question being away from home for the first time, or working out over the summer. He's been someone I've always been able to reach out to … he's a big person in my life."

Nurse was asked if McNabb has become a bigger hockey fan now that his nephew has become a popular prospect in Northern Ontario.

"He's growing to be one," Nurse said, laughing. "I think over the years, he's actually been watching a lot more [hockey] and is really interested in what I'm doing. He hasn't put on a pair of skates yet, but I'm pushing him."

-- Mike G. Morreale

"He's the kind of guy who is not going to make a lot of mistakes," NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told "He's steady and solid, and you can trust him out there."

Nurse was recently the No. 2-rated skater, and top-ranked defenseman, on Central Scouting's preliminary list of skaters in the Ontario Hockey League. He was behind center Sean Monahan of the Ottawa 67's and ahead of Windsor's Kerby Rychel, and London's Max Domi and Bo Horvat.

"To be in that position is something that you work for all season, but to see my name there was obviously a bit of a surprise," Nurse said. "At the same time, it's something that just pushes you to get better on a daily basis."

Improvement is something Nurse takes very seriously, and it's paying dividends. Greyhounds coach Mike Stapleton said his alternate captain can play any type of game, whether it's being more offensive or staying at home. But unlike many, he complements any style with tremendous grit.

"It's nice to be [high on draft boards] but some things come with it … you have to stand up for yourself a little bit more," Nurse said. "That's a brand of hockey I really enjoy playing, and I wouldn't have it any other way."

In fact, Edwards compared Nurse to a young Chris Pronger, who spent two seasons with the OHL's Peterborough Petes before going No. 2 to the Hartford Whalers at the 1993 NHL Draft. In his second season in Peterborough, Pronger had 15 goals, 77 points and 108 penalty minutes.

Nurse enjoys the comparisons to Pronger, but realizes he has a long way to go to reach that level.

"I think people like to compare young players to NHL players to get an idea what they could potentially be down the road, and to be mentioned in the same breath as Chris Pronger is something that a lot of people dream about," Nurse said. "At the same time, you have to understand you are your own player. You have to do what you need to do to be successful. Pronger has been a big player in the NHL, and comparisons to him put a little added pressure."

In 26 games this season in Sault Ste. Marie, Nurse has produced four goals, 17 points and 57 PIM. According to, he's also had three fights, including two in an Oct. 28 contest against the Guelph Storm (against Tanner Richard and Ben Harpur).

"Anytime you get a guy his size, who skates as well as [Nurse] does and plays a physical game, it's fun to watch," Edwards said. "In the one game at Guelph, I saw him fight twice and he did very well in both. The fights happened while both players were going for the puck and they just got into it. He handles himself very well.

"I like everything about this guy, and defensemen like him are hard to find."

Nurse has also benefited from his international stints this year for Canada at the World Under-18 Championship and the annual Ivan Hlinka Tournament.

"It was huge … not only playing against top players in the world, but surrounded by some of the best players in the world," he said. "You're able to see some of the different routines that guys have, and being able to play with a guy like Matt Dumba -- he's a great defenseman. I took away some things from watching him and how great a leader he is. Playing in those international games helps you grow not only as a player, but a person."

"At 6-foot-4 and 189 pounds, I have to use every pound that I have … it's kind of expected being this size. You have to be someone who is hard to play against, and that's something I enjoy."  -- Darnell Nurse

Nurse is very much looking forward to the NHL Draft on June 28-29 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. He will be accompanied by quite the athletic family. His dad, Richard, was a wide receiver with the Canadian Football League's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, while mom, Cathy, starred with the McMaster Marauders basketball team in Hamilton, Ontario. His sisters, Tamika and Kia, are also basketball players.

His aunt, Raquel, had a stellar basketball career at Syracuse, where she met and eventually married NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Nurse hopes to be the first of the family to earn the spotlight playing professional hockey.

"It's really exciting, growing up as a kid, and watching the draft, seeing the guys getting picked," Nurse said. "Obviously, more lately, you see guys you've played against or guys you played with who are going up [to the stage] and getting their jerseys. It's something you only dream of doing."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale

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