“I keep my gold medal in my sock drawer”: A Q&A with hockey phenom Sarah Nurse
Nurse has won big at the Olympics, inspired her own Barbie doll and earned a fan in Drake. Now, she faces her biggest test: bringing glory to the Professional Women’s Hockey League
You tallied a whopping five goals and 13 assists en route to winning gold at the 2022 Olympics. What were those two weeks like?
Beijing brought up mixed emotions. It was during the pandemic, and I was coming off a knee injury, so being able to hit the ice was exciting. I just wanted to play and be free.
Where’s that gold medal now?
I bring it out when I’m meeting kids or if I’m with family who haven’t seen it yet. Otherwise, it’s in my sock drawer.
You’re now the face of the new PWHL. Any reason to think this league will survive longer than its predecessors?
The landscape of women’s hockey used to be very confusing: too many leagues and not enough funding. The PWHL features six teams—three in Canada, three in the US—meaning there’s now a single place for the best women’s hockey. We won’t have to compete with other women’s leagues for media or marketing.
Billie Jean King is also a board member. That’s a huge vote of confidence.
Yes! Billie Jean King works with the Walter Group, a part-owner of the LA Dodgers and the LA Sparks, along with many other sports franchises around the world. Her presence, as well as that financial backing, brings credibility.
You’re a Hamiltonian drafted to PWHL Toronto. The jerseys are blue and white—an important colour combo for fans here. Will there be a relationship between your team and the Leafs?
The last time I spoke with Brendan Shanahan, he couldn’t have been more excited about the PWHL’s future. The Leafs have been a strong partner to the women’s players association, and I’m hopeful that support will continue.
Traditionally, women’s hockey hasn’t received funding and broadcast time because it didn’t have an audience, but building an audience takes funding and broadcast time. How will the PWHL solve this Catch-22?
It’s about opportunity. Look at pro tennis. The women’s tournament at last year’s US Open exceeded the viewership of the men’s. We need the chance to perform. And we need to talk about more than just growing the game. Journalists don’t ask Auston Matthews about his impact on the next generation. They ask him about the power play and how he plans to win.
Fair point. So let’s talk about your game. What’s your focus this season?
Face-off skills and my finish—getting the puck in the net in those big moments.
Yours is a family of athletes: one cousin in the WNBA, another in the NHL. Was it always hockey for you?
Some families are academics; some are musicians. My family was always very physically active, so we became athletes. Growing up, I was into basketball and volleyball and track and field. When I was really little, I wanted to figure skate—I think it was the outfits—but my parents pushed me toward hockey. No regrets.
You’re a racialized athlete in a sport that remains stubbornly white-dominated. How has that experience been?
Being the only non-white family in the arena is something we’ve gotten used to. I have an obligation to open people’s eyes to the inequality within the sport.
And you have. At the height of 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests, you tweeted: “Black Lives are more important than sports. I’m going to need hockey, especially, to understand that.” Any progress?
Change comes slowly. What we really need is more diversity at the grassroots level—more children from different backgrounds getting involved so that the talent pool transforms. That goes for coaches, referees and people on the business side too.
You inspired a Sarah Nurse Barbie and received an Instagram shoutout from Drake while playing for Canada. What’s next on your bucket list?
I have a lot of big goals inside and outside of hockey. But, first, I want to help this new league succeed so that the fans can really get to know the players as people.
Getting Drake to show up is always good publicity.
He’ll come at some point. Maybe we can do a jersey swap.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.