Darnell Nurse has played just two games for the Oklahoma City Barons but the seventh overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft has already earned the trust of his head coach.
When Abbotsford scored to take the 4-3 lead at 8:27 of the third period, Nurse took on some hefty minutes and crucial shifts.
“It was huge,” Nurse said.
Nurse One-on-One | Nelson One-on-One | Lander Post-Game | HIGHLIGHTS: Barons 5, Heat 4 SO
Nurse had been on the ice for two of the opposing team’s goals in the second period. He wanted to show the coaching staff he could be counted on to not only bounce back but make a play when his team needed him.
“Obviously in the second period they got those two goals while I was out on the ice so I wanted try and make a play to help us get a goal and I was fortunate enough to do it in the third. I think it was great.”
Nurse recorded his first professional point with an assist on the game-tying goal at 17:53 of the third period.
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Head Coach Todd Nelson not only gave Nurse the opportunity to play big minutes in the third but he also played him in the overtime period.
“Well, I think we have confidence in him and that’s dictated by his play on the ice,” Nelson said. “We used him in overtime and just because he skates so well and cover the ice. We definitely have confidence in this player and I think as we go on here and the more games he plays, he’s going to get more comfortable.”
Nurse’s first American Hockey League shift didn’t go quite the way he would have hoped on Friday night. But just like he did on Sunday night, Nurse bounced back in that game and turned in a solid performances in the eyes of his coach.
“I thought he played well,” Nelson said on Friday night after Oklahoma City’s I thought on his first shift, it’s kind of funny how it happened, he (was) victimized. He was in good position and he fell down, got nudged and fell down and they end up scoring. But he bounced back from that. I thought he played a strong game for us. I like the way he covered the ice real well, he played physical and he had some scoring chances as well tonight. For a first American Hockey League game, I thought he played extremely well.”
Following game number two, it was the same story for Nurse who played solid on Sunday afternoon.
“Once again, Darnell Nurse was good tonight,” Nelson said. “He covered a lot of ice, he was strong in the corners and he made some good plays so I’m happy (with his performance).”
On Friday, the nerves might have been a factor for Nurse, 19, but he took a deep breath and grew more comfortable in his first game.
“It was one of those dreams you have growing up as a kid and then the first shift, I went off and probably made a pretty bad read and they scored a goal,” he said. “I just said to myself, it only goes up from here. I just went out, regrouped and continued to play my game. I’ve found that I’ve been playing pretty well and just kept my feet under myself and I can continue to get better.”
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Now following his second-career professional game, Nurse can look back and realize his coaching staff trusts him in key do-or-die moments.
“Yeah, it was huge and I think when they show that kind of confidence in me, I put a little bit more pressure in myself to go out there and try and make a play.”
“I know the first night he had to adjust to the speed but tonight he looked very comfortable and I think, once again, as we go along here he’s just going to get better and better,” Nelson said following the Barons’ huge 5-4 overtime win over Abbotsford on Sunday.
Nurse credits his defensive partners for his easy transition to the professional game. He has been paired primarily with Taylor Fedun, which Nelson says was by design.
“It’s been good because Taylor is arguably one of our more veteran defencemen and we wanted to put Darnell in a situation where he could succeed and I think they compliment each other,” Nelson said. “Taylor is a very smart player, he’s a puck mover and Darnell has those attributes with him but the thing is, he can really work the corners hard and he kills the cycle. It makes sense and so far it’s panned out.”
“He’s just so smart and helps me out on the ice,” Nurse said. “I always know where he’s going to be and he’s always talking to me and makes my life a lot easier just to go out there and play.”
The Barons picked up a mammoth win to help bolster their playoff chances. With the win, OKC took sole possession of the 8th seed in the Western Conference with 79 points, as both Charlotte and Rockford (77 points) lost on Sunday.
The win also raises the hope that Nurse’s season won’t end immediately and that’s just fine by him.
“I love this game and I think the biggest thing is just go out and have as much fun as you can. I don’t really want it to end so I’m going to do everything I can here and do whatever the coaches ask me to do and I’m going to go out there and have fun.”