As virtually all know, Canada ended their gold medal drought at the World Junior Hockey Championship with a hard fought 5-4 win over rival Russia on Monday night.
The gold medal victory marked Canada’s first championship at the WJC since 2009 and their first medal at the tournament since a bronze in 2012.
The major contributors for Canada, such as Connor McDavid, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Curtis Lazar and Nic Petan are those who will likely be most remembered in the long term. However, other members of the team quietly played important, if not essential roles in guiding Canada to the gold.
One of these players was Edmonton Oilers prospect Darnell Nurse, who quietly was one of the best players on team Canada throughout the entire tournament and a definite key to their success.
A Budding Star
Nurse, drafted seventh overall by the Oilers in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, is in his third season with the Ontario Hockey Leagues Soo Sault Marie Greyhounds and is the current team captain.A dominating physical force at 6 foot 4 and 205 pounds, Nurse has the size of an NHL defender and the skills to match.
In 204 career games in the OHL, Nurse has registered 32 goals and 120 points, while he has maintained a point per game pace this season with 19 points in 19 games.Darnell also suited up for two NHL regular season games with Edmonton this season prior to being returned to the OHL.
Despite his consistent junior hockey success, it was the 2015 WJC which allowed Nurse to emphatically establish himself as a blue chip, top prospect of the Edmonton Oilers.
World Junior Success
Despite his offensive potential, Nurse only registered one point in the entire tournament. However, this was due to his assigned role on the team, focusing largely on defending the Canadian goal.
In his own end, Nurse was a beast throughout the entire tournament, punishing opposing players with his big frame while playing a fundamentally sound game on a nightly basis.
Nurse didn’t need to be flashy to be good, he just did what all great defenders do, separating his man from the puck and distributing it to his forwards in order to break out of the defensive zone. However, his offensive flair was often seen in his offensive rushes which often led to scoring chances.
Case in point: the third period of Canada’s gold medal game. On one shift in particular, Nurse engaged in a lengthy battle with a Russian forward behind the Canadian goal, using his size to restrict and dominate the opposing player before finally sending him to the ice, work which allowed Canada an opportunity to clear the defensive zone.
This was the story of Nurse’s entire tournament. He was heavily relied upon to play important minutes in important situations, and did not disappoint. His play ensured Canada was a defensive force in the tournament, as his team allowed a round robin low four goals against, three of which came in their lone game against the USA.
Nurse was stellar in particular, as he was not on the ice for an even strength goal against at any point in the tournament, while his plus 8 rating was tied for third best among Canadian defencemen.
Darnell Nurse’s excellent play was of such high quality that he received recognition from both Canada’s coaches as well as the team as a whole. In the gold medal victory, Nurse was named the player of the game, while he was further recognized by his coaches as one of Canada’s top three players of the entire tournament, alongside Sam Reinhart and Max Domi.
At the end of the tournament, Nurse had shown why he was a high draft pick, and also why he was on team Canada. A dominanting force at both ends of the ice, Darnell Nurse was a major reason why Canada brought home the gold at the 2015 WJC.
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.