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Canada, U.S. rivals join forces in Toronto camp


Sarah Nurse has had a chance to reunite with some players at the training camp of Toronto’s Professional Women’s Hockey League, and get acquainted with a few others. The star Canadian forward has been around fellow national team members and American players who have been rivals on the international level.

“I think it’s great. To be able to play alongside somebody like a Blayre Turnbull — I went to university with her in Wisconsin, but we’ve been separated for the last five years (with) her being in Calgary,” Nurse said last week. “Just seeing her day to day is pretty impressive.

“Obviously, we have players who are the best in the world on this team, so to be able to compete against them every day and then go to battle with them in games is pretty exciting.

“Playing with somebody like Jesse Compher or Kali Flanagan — and those are two players that I’ve played against — so (I have) a newfound respect for their games that I may not have necessarily seen when they were on the U.S. national team. It’s been a pretty cool combination, a pretty cool mix.”

The Canadian and U.S. women’s programs have a rivalry dating back to the 1990s, with both dominating the sport at world championships and Olympic Games. The two sides have also competed in the annual seven-game Rivalry Series, with five Canadians on Toronto competing in this season’s edition.

But on the ice in Toronto, players are sharing tips and laughs with one another. Forward Natalie Spooner called it “exciting” to play alongside American players the calibre of Compher and Flanagan.

“I guess you’re finally getting to know them off the ice a lot more,” Spooner said. “I always say, whatever jersey you put on, if they were wearing an American jersey, for sure we’d go at it. Even at practice, I’m sure if they’re wearing a different colour jersey, we’re going to fight and make each other better. But when we put on our team jersey, our Toronto jersey, we want the best for each other and that’s what’s going to make us a great team.

“When you’re here, it doesn’t really feel like national team and Toronto. It just feels like you’re one big team.”

Compher echoed a similar sentiment.

“I walked into this locker room knowing about two people on a personal level, maybe three … But the second that I walked into this rink and this locker room, between the staff and other players, you kind of just have this immediate bond that we’re going to be here together for a while, and we all have the same goal. We’re here to become better athletes and to keep growing the game of women’s hockey.”

The relationships the players build in Toronto could be greater than that of a national team experience, GM Gina Kingsbury said.

“It’s not something that everyone gets to do. To be able to represent a city and to be with a group every day for an entire season … there’s more than just a short-term competition you’re getting ready for. It’s really special. To me, the relationships that get built within that are the relationships that last for a lifetime.”





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