Family first for Nurse

Tuesday, 11.06.2013 / 12:39 PM
Aaron Vickers  - CalgaryFlames.com (@aavickers)

CALGARY, AB -- Inevitably, any conversation with Darnell Nurse eventually turns to family.

Considering the 18-year-old's pedigree, it's justifiably so.

His dad, Richard, was a wide receiver with the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats. His uncle by marriage is former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Darnell is understanding of what prompts the line of questioning given his family ties to the football world and how he's carving his own path in hockey as one of the 2013 NHL Draft's top eligibles.

That doesn't mean the near-constant prompting doesn't wear on the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenseman, though.

"Both of them have success in sport, but for me I think it gets a little annoying talking about it all the time," said Darnell, fourth among North American skaters in Central Scouting's final ranking. "But that's family. They have played such big roles in my life that being asked those questions. I don't mind it. At the same time, it's pretty repetitive."

Besides, there are others equally deserving of some press, Darnell admitted.

"I have another side of the family," he said. "The running joke with them is they never get enough love in the Doucette side of the family. My mom (Cathy) played basketball and my grandpa (Ralph) was probably one of my biggest influences to play hockey, driving back and forth when my mom couldn't. He was a great link in my life. Family as a whole for me is really important."

Cathy starred with McMaster Marauders in CIAU action and those genes have been passed not only to Darnell but to his two sisters both basketball standouts in their own right.

Tamika, 25, played basketball at the University of Oregon and Bowling Green after selections to Canada's Junior National Team in 2004 and 2005. Kia, who is just finishing up her junior year of high school, has already been selected to compete with the Canadian Senior Women’s National Basketball team.

It might be the two that keep Darnell on his toes the most when it comes to the competitive side of the family.

"They try to get me out and play one-on-one, but not now," he said.

Admittedly, he probably wouldn't fare well.

"My older sister's too fast. She's got that first step on me," Darnell said. "My younger sister is 6-foot-1 now. I used to beat her back in the day, used to take it to her and use my size but she's grown a little bit. She's not afraid to throw a couple blows.

"They're a little too talented to beat."

But just as beneficial to have around.

"For me, it's a great environment to grow up in," Darnell said. "Everyone's a competitor. Everyone's trying to get better, whether it's my sister going out and putting up shots or they want to go on a run. It's a great environment to be a part of."

It's an environment that has bred success for Darnell.

His second season in the Ontario Hockey League, the 6-foot-4, 185-pound defenseman recorded 12 goals and 41 points in 68 games.

And as impressive as his season was, the former third overall pick by the Greyhounds in the OHL's Priority Selection still craves more.

"I think it's definitely a huge benefit that comes with having people around that have been through sports and have had success in sports," Darnell said. "It's easier to get there then to stay there. At this point, it's been a lot of work to get there for me and I'm doing everything I can. They've really showed me the way that you have to get better every day, whether it's on the ice or in the gym -- just give everything you have and go home satisfied.

"If you don't go home satisfied, it's something I think about all night. That's something I like having."

Rest assured, the reigning OHL Scholastic Player of the Year will leave New Jersey, the site of the draft, more than satisfied after a long, stressful season.

"All the work's done; all the heavy lifting is done," he said.

"It's a time I can enjoy with my family. There are always questions about what can happen but the best thing about the draft for me is they get to enjoy it. I'm going to go and enjoy the process too, but the biggest thing is sharing in the moment with my family."

The very people he's shared his journey with, from beginning to beyond.

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