“From a young age, I was always surrounded by sports. This is pretty much all I know. I’ve always been good in the books and in school but it’s always been a passion of mine to become a professional athlete.”
Darnell Nurse is well on his way to reaching his dream. The 19-year-old defenceman is participating in his second Young Stars Tournament and up until this point, Nurse’s road to the NHL has been smooth. Most impressive though is the first-round pick's levelheaded approach to the game.
“I think you have expectations for yourself," Nurse said. "My expectations for myself are really high and, at the same time, you have to balance that with being realistic with your goals.”
This approach has meant Nurse hasn’t dealt with many roadblocks on his way to becoming one of the most exciting defensive prospects in the league. However, a minor blip came last year when the under-20 World Junior squad was chosen, and he was omitted.
“I think when you sit back and reflect on it for too long it effects your game. I’ll just move forward. It’s always been something that sticks in the back of your head, just a little reminder every now and then that there is always things you can work on, as well as a little bit of motivation.”
Many expected Nurse to get a shot to crack that roster, but it’s those external voices and opinions that his Uncle Donovan (Donovan McNabb, most known for his 11 seasons with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles) warned him to ignore.
“Don’t read outside pressures or let that creep in.”
And why would it, when Nurse has such a great support system behind him that can relate to his experiences?
|Photo by Steven Christy/OKC Barons |
His father, Richard, was a CFL wide receiver and running back; His Mom, Cathy, played for McMaster basketball; His aunt Raquel, basketball MVP at Syracuse University; as well as his sister Kia, who’s the youngest member of Canada’s National Basketball Team. This sport standout family may have each other’s backs, but certainly don’t pull any punches when it comes to inter-household competition.
“Oh ya, it’s a rivalry! We’re all each other's number one fans. But whenever we have a chance to get on the court in front of the house to play a little basketball, we become our number one rivals."
When asked who usually wins, Nurse had some fighting words for his opposition.
“Usually it’s me and my little sister against my older sister and my dad, they cheat so they usually win. We’ve had a couple strong efforts, so I think were coming along.”
The play wasn’t limited to the court. Some backyard football was a Nurse family mainstay.
“We used to play a lot, maybe it got a little to physical. Now we stick to the basketball. Stick to 21, not wanting to get a 2-on-2 game so close to camp.”
The family style of physical competition seems to have spilled right over to Nurse’s style of game. Words like imposing, aggressive and mean are associated with his blueline-style that garnered him 268 penalty minutes in the last three OHL seasons.
“We all want to accomplish our own goals and be great in our own sports. I put some pressure on myself to be great everyday and that just comes from working hard and enjoying the whole experience."
As the captain of his Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, one would think it’s tough to balance your team responsibilities as you try to also develop yourself into the player you want to be. Nurse says for him, it’s a lot simpler than that.
“Part of who I am is to lead by example. When you go out and work hard, guys kind of just follow that. At the same time there are times when guys need to step up and say something and I’ve never been afraid to do that either. I think the leadership part of my game is always going to be there."
Nurse is commencing his final year of junior eligibility, which will be his second season after signing his three-year entry level contract with the Oilers.
Before all that, the Young Stars Tournament is wrapping up in Penticton, B.C. and Nurse will suit up Monday after getting a reprieve against the Flames Saturday night.
The Oilers prospects take on the Winnipeg system and go for the clean sweep after wins over Vancouver and Calgary thus far.