Edmonton Oilers prospect Darnell Nurse comes from a big sports family, so it was only fitting that he visited the Sportsnet offices on Wednesday alongside his sister, Kia, who recently led Canada’s women’s basketball team to Pan Am gold and an Olympic berth.
Nurse’s parents are both former athletes (his mother played basketball and his father was a CFL receiver), his uncle is retired NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, and both of his sisters have found success on the basketball court.
The 20-year-old highly-touted defenceman spoke to us about what it’s like to share the spotlight with his sister this summer, which NHLer he tries to model his game after, his mindset going into the Oilers’ “coccoon of competition” and how he plans on making his case for a spot on the team this year.
Sportsnet: What has your summer routine been, to make sure you’re staying hockey-ready?
Darnell Nurse: It’s been pretty constant. Working out five days a week in Hamilton, the odd week I work out six days, and then I try to kick my feet up as much as possible on the weekends and recover. It’s been a lot of fun.
SN: Are you enjoying the BioSteel camp this week?
Nurse: I think the best thing is it’s been a great simulation of training camp, and with how fast it’s coming up in September, it’s good to go out there, push the pace a little bit and get the lungs back.
SN: How has it been, being at home in Hamilton for the summer?
Nurse: It’s great to be home. It’s good when you don’t have to be in and out of hotels and things like that. I’ve had the opportunity to stay home, have a couple home-cooked meals.
SN: Is there a favourite home-cooked meal?
Nurse: Steak and potatoes has always been my favourite. You can’t go wrong with that.
SN: The Oilers have been front-and-centre in the hockey world this off-season. What’s it like to have your team in the spotlight?
Nurse: It’s been awesome. There’s so much support within the city of Edmonton. I think fans everywhere are just excited to get the season going. I think as players, too, whenever you see that type of excitement, it also pushes you to strap the skates on and get ready for October.
SN: What’s Connor McDavid like to defend against?
Nurse: He’s one of the toughest players ever to play against. His ability to use his speed with his smarts all at once, I think it’s something rare. You don’t see that in a lot of players … As a defender, he can really be a nightmare, so it’s a lot more fun to have him on my team.
SN: What kind of teammate is he?
Nurse: He’s a great guy. I’ve grown a pretty good relationship with him now, getting to play with him, and talking to him over the summer. He’s a great guy, really humble, always working hard. I think whenever you have that type of combination with a guy with his ability, the sky’s the limit.
SN: There’s a lot of focus on building a strong young defence in Edmonton. What’s it like being part of that young group of defenders?
Nurse: There’s been a lot of great additions to the blueline. Obviously that adds a little more challenge to me and my job to earn a spot, but I think it’s always exciting. That’s the beauty of professional sports — you’re always in a cocoon of competition, you’re always forced to play at your best. Whenever you’re surrounded by guys that are pushing themselves to be at their best, it also forces you to elevate your game. I’m looking forward to being part of it, and trying to start making my case to be on the team.
SN: Which NHLer do you try to model your game around?
Nurse: Shea Weber. I think he’s a great example of a guy who goes out there and plays a two-way game. He uses his body, and can contribute on the offensive side. You see guys like that, and it’s obviously how you want to make an impact on all 200 feet on the ice.
SN: You’re here with your sister, Kia, today. What’s it like making the media rounds with her?
Nurse: It’s different! [Laughs.] I’m not used to it. All of a sudden we come as a package deal. It’s been awesome, it’s been a lot of fun. For both of us, we dreamed of reaching high places in sports, and obviously it’s great to see her and what she’s been able to accomplish so far, especially this summer … She’s obviously very inspiring to everyone in the country, and especially female basketball players. So for myself, I look to her performances and how she’s able to step up on big stages and make an impact at such a young age, and you just want to go out there and have the same effects for your team.
SN: Have you booked your trip to Rio?
Nurse: I haven’t booked it yet, but I know it’s going to come quick, because I know you have to book them early … I’m going to book it with my parents. I’m just looking forward to having the opportunity to go there.
SN: Do you guy exchange advice? Train together?
Nurse: Being the big brother, she probably comes to me a little more, asking questions. But I’m just here, however I can help her. Being athletes, we go through a lot of the same experiences away from the court and away from the rink, so I think we’ve always been big helps to each other in that aspect.
Not so much with the training though — I think if we were to get in the gym, we’d be too competitive. [Laughs.]
SN: What kind of a big brother are you?
Nurse: The most protective kind. [Laughs.] I also try to support her as much as I can. I’m very proud, very happy for all that she’s accomplished, and I can’t wait to see where she takes it from here.
SN: At what point growing up was Kia able to totally kick your butt at basketball?
Nurse: Probably in Grade 8 or Grade 9. I just stopped challenging her to games — I was smarter than that. She’ll tell you though, I’m a street shooter, so if I get hot, it’s game over. [Laughs.] But yeah, once me and her started to play and elbows were thrown and stuff, we said ‘that’s it. We can’t be doing this anymore.’
SN: Football and basketball are obviously very big in your family. What was it about hockey that stuck with you from a young age?
Nurse: It’s just a game that I fell in love with when I was really young. My dad would take me out skating and I could never get enough of it. I was always asking to go out. He’s a big part of why I love the game. My grandpa was a big Leafs fan back in the day — he still is now, but I’m going to try to convert him to an Oilers fan.
SN: So did you grow up a Leafs fan?
Nurse: I didn’t grow up a Leafs fan. I was a bandwagon jumper when I was younger — whoever won the Cup was my favourite. Then I liked New Jersey when I started to watch Scott Stevens. And now I’m an Oilers fan, of course!
SN: What are you most looking forward to about heading to Oilers training camp?
Nurse: The exciting part for me is that I put in a lot of work this summer. It’s going to be a lot of fun for me to just go out there and play and do what I can in camp and hopefully that takes me where it needs to take me. I’m just looking forward to putting together everything that I’ve worked towards this summer and I want to make the most of it.