Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club
Thursday's game will be the last of the season between Edmonton and San Jose. It will be the final step of closure for Todd McLellan, as he finishes the season series with his new team against his old team. However, the game is being built up more about a young defenceman than a veteran coach.
That blueliner is Darnell Nurse and the attention given to what will be game 77 for the Oilers actually centres around what happened in game 69. Do you remember the score? 3-0 for the Sharks. Do you remember how many power plays Edmonton had? Two, in case you had forgotten. Do you remember what happened between Nurse and Roman Polak? Don't think I need to answer that question.
It’s hard not to remember what happened between Nurse and Polak. The NHL certainly remembers. They watched the tape of it and deemed it should result in a three-game suspension for the youngster. It's been argued whether the penalty was too harsh, but Nurse owned up to his over zealousness in defending the honour of his teammate Matt Hendricks. The hard fall into the boards that looked like an act of carelessness on the part of the San Jose defenceman. It's been documented and debated as the fall of Polak took considerably less time than the fall of the Roman Empire.
Instead of focusing on revenge or retribution, let's spend some time on a Nurse who caused Polak to need a doctor. Lean and lanky is the Hamilton, ON native who went into beast mode at the World Junior gold medal game. An athletic family are the Nurses. A father in the CFL, an uncle in the NFL, a sister in the UConn basketball program and the Canadian landscape of female shot takers. To watch him on the ice, and specifically what happened on March 8, is to see the 'other' side of Darnell Nurse. I'm sure Polak wouldn't believe me but the 21-year-old is really an easy-going guy.
I first met Darnell after he was drafted in 2013. It was at the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC. He was open and honest, and friendly — no, really, Roman. We talked about his weight and putting some on. The Oilers had subscribed to have him on a program that would add pounds on his 6-4 frame. He was eating up to 7,000 calories a day. The Oilers, playing the role of an Italian Nonna saying "mangia, mangia" and he did. His favourite meal? Steak and potatoes. Simple and satisfying and in a province known for its beef that's what he has added to his frame.
What he likes to do in the off-season is go off-roading. He hops in his truck and off Nurse goes looking for the most challenging piece of terrain he can find. Additional information to the profile of a laid back, low stress, up-and-coming pillar of the team. I often hear how this is Connor McDavid’s team, but I know Darnell Nurse can play on it. The eventual wearer of the 'C' has yet to be determined, but there has to be at least an 'A' that will find its way onto his jersey. That's a topic for down the road. For now, it's finish the season and the series with San Jose. A Shark smelled blood and saw blood thanks to the first-round pick's pugilism. Thursday night, Nurse will be on call. Ready for work of any kind in the NHL.