Highly skilled
by Erin Brown|04 FEB 2023
Canadian women’s national team player Sarah Nurse is congratulated for her goal by the Toronto Maple Leaf’s Mitchell Marner.
photo: Marta Lavandier / AP Photo / Keystone
On a night made for highlights, Sarah Nurse delivered one — and even got in a little trouble.

The Canada women’s national team star scored on a one-handed backhand on a breakaway during the 2023 NHL All-Star Skills competition, beating Igor Shestyorkin of the New York Rangers.

One of five elite women's hockey players to participate in Sunrise, Florida, Nurse got the suggestion from a friend to replicate the move Swedish star Peter Forsberg used in the shootout for gold at the 1994 Winter Olympics.

“We were talking about this event and they were like, ‘you should try this,’” Nurse said. “Just go on your forehand, one hand on your backhand. I tried it out and I thought it was full-send. Why not, right? Attack the day, seize the moment, seize the opportunity.”

Nurse said she didn’t realize until later she scored on the reigning winner of the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the NHL's top goalkeeper. When she got off the ice, though, the Hamilton, Ontario native had a text from one of his assistant coaches.

“It was like, ‘why do you have to do him like that?’ So I got in a little bit of trouble, but it’s okay,” she joked.

“She showed great skill,” Shestyorkin said. “I wasn’t ready for that (move).”

Nurse, along with Canada’s Emily Clark and Rebecca Johnston and United States’ Hilary Knight and Alex Carpenter took part as shooters during the “Tendy Tandem” competition. Goalkeepers first fired a puck the length of the ice in an attempt to score a goal. Their success determined how many shooters the partner would face — a solo breakaway, 2-on-0 or 3-on-0.

Nurse’s Atlantic Division counterparts failed to get anything past Shestyorkin. But in a matchup between the 2022 and 2018 Olympic gold medalists, Nurse skated in from the right and shifted to her backhand. With only her right hand on the stick, she slid the puck beyond Shestyorkin's pad and just inside the right post.

Even Canadian hero Sidney Crosby admitted being impressed.

“Her hands were pretty good on that deke,” he said. “I didn’t see that one-hander coming.”

Making her NHL All-Star debut, Clark drew praise as well. In an earlier round, she fired a shot off the crossbar.

“She beat me clean,” said Vegas Golden Knights and Canadian national team goalkeeper Logan Thompson. “She beat me and hit the post.”

Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov, who claimed the title as the fastest skater, said Clark’s attempt stood out to him. The Russian noted, “it was a heavy shot.”

“We’re having a lot of fun,” Clark said, “but also super proud to represent women’s hockey.”

Earlier in the week, the women also participated in a friendly game of EA Sports’ NHL23 on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Nurse, Clark, Knight and Carpenter played as their digital counterparts, extending the Canada-USA rivalry to the virtual world.

Like the typical on-ice battles between the teams, the Canadians and Americans exchanged leads. When Canada tied the game at 4-4 late in the third period to force overtime, Knight joked, “Isn’t this always what happens?” Clark then directed her digital self on a breakaway to deliver the game-winning goal — and bragging rights — for Canada.

A couple days later, Nurse made sure to take advantage of those.

“Canada won in overtime,” Nurse said with Knight responding. “Had to bring it up!”

“It was cool because you’re reaching a whole new fan base through gaming,” Nurse added. “We’ve done a lot of fun events just to really reach new markets.”
Posing with the Stanley Cup Florida style. From left to right: Hilary Knight, Emily Clark, Alex Carpenter, Sarah Nurse, Rebecca Johnston.
photo: Erin Brown
This is the fourth year the NHL has invited women to join in its All-Star festivities.

In 2019, Kendall Coyne Schofield joined the Fastest Skater competition when Colorado’s Nathan McKinnon pulled out due to injury. Coyne Schofield finished with a time of 14.346, less than a second behind winner Connor McDavid of Edmonton.

The league also invited Johnson, Renata Fast and American Brianna Decker to demonstrate events. Decker caught the attention for her demonstration of the Accuracy Shooting event, posting a mark three seconds faster than the eventual winner, Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl of Germany. Though Decker’s mark was unofficial, sponsor CCM matched the $25,000 award given by the NHL to the event’s winner to Decker.

A year later, the league included a 3-on-3 game between Canada and the U.S. as part of events. Canada won, 2-1.

“I think we were all enamored with the 3-on-3, and that was something that was super special and fun for us,” Knight said. “But moving forward, we hope there are more opportunities that we can get integrated into events like this.”

The first step toward this came in 2022 as most of the top players were preparing for the Beijing Olympics. Former Team USA forward Jocelyne Lamoureux placed third in “Fountain Faceoff,” a target shooting-like contest. But that was off-ice.

The next logical step is for the Olympians compete against NHL players in the skills competition or alongside them in the game.

“I think they proved that (previously) with the fastest skater,” Thompson said. “Absolutely they can compete with us and they belong here as well.”

In January 2023, the ECHL, North America's "AA" professional league, invited four women to take part in its All-Star Game. Former Canadian national team member Ann-Sophie Bettez and Sydney Brodt of the Premier Hockey Federation and Emily Brown and Samantha Cogan of the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association participated in the ECHL All-Star Classic. Brodt, who will skate for the U.S. in the upcoming rivalry series versus Canada, delivered the game winner.

Especially with the NHL having shifted to a 3-on-3 format, the style play during All-Star Weekend favours high skill over physicality.

“Whenever there’s an opportunity to integrate both men and women together have our best players on the ice, you’re going to see great skills and outstanding plays,” Knight said. “Hopefully the future is really bright for the sport to combine at these types of events.”

“I just love that we’re showcasing the best players in the world here,” Nurse said. “Regardless if they’re male or female, I think that it’s pretty awesome that every year we’re able to come out, contribute and do something with the guys. And they’re all awesome. They all acknowledge us as athletes and I think it’s pretty special.”