A trio of Canadian Olympians will call Toronto home for at least the next three seasons, as the PWHL's Toronto team announced its inaugural signings Wednesday. GM Gina Kingsbury has signed defender Renata Fast, along with forwards Sarah Nurse and Blayre Turnbull.
Like Ottawa's signings, which were announced Tuesday, Toronto's first three signings are a strong group of talent. They, too, are incredibly familiar with one another, having played for Canada at the last two Olympics and four World Championships together. Turnbull and Nurse also played together at Wisconsin for a couple seasons.
In a Wednesday evening media conference, Kingsbury said she couldn't have picked three better players to start a franchise with, noting her familiarity with the three from their time with Canada's national team program and highlighting qualities like character, leadership and talent.
Before playing in the PWHPA, all three played in the CWHL and expressed how much they've missed being part of a true "home team" and playing for a city. While they enjoyed the PWHPA's barnstorming model and its potential to spread women's hockey to a wider area, they're looking forward to the change.
"I miss home games, for sure," Nurse said. "I miss being in front of our fans, our crowd, having that routine on game day. I'm so excited to get back to that. I know it's going to be incredibly special, building a fanbase here in Toronto."
"It's really special to represent a city and to fell like you have a fanbase behind you," Fast said. "You have consistency with your teammates, you get to practice with them on a daily basis, and you can really become the best player that you can possible be, because you're playing with a group of people consistently."
"To finally reach a time where we have this true professional league, where we all get to play and sign with such a big market – I just can't even believe we're finally here," Fast said. "I can't wait to see how our team gets put together and there's no doubt in my mind that Toronto is going to be a great place to play."
Fast said she takes pride in being consistent, and that her reliability is a significant contribution on the ice. She plays an "aggressive style" of defense, focusing on the defensive side first and contributing offensively when she can. She's easily a top-pair defender for the Toronto team, and now it'll be interesting to see who they can scoop up in the draft to serve as her full-time partner.
Fast had five points, all assists, in 20 PWHPA games last season. The former Toronto Furies defender appeared in 53 CWHL games between 2016 and 2019, recording 86 penalty minutes and 17 points. Fast, 28, has two Olympic medals and previously was part of the Clarkson team that won their school's first NCAA championship. Even in college, she was noted for serving as an excellent role model to both her teammates and the community.
Turnbull noted her on-ice identity as a "complete player" as one of her strengths. While the defensive zone comes first for her, she considers herself a 200-foot player, able to capitalize on offensive opportunities, too.
The 30-year-old averaged a point-per-game last season in the PWHPA, with nine goals and 11 assists in 20 games. She previously played four seasons with the CWHL's Calgary Inferno, where she put up 64 points (33G, 31A) in 83 games. She has two Olympic medals and was an alternate captain in Beijing in 2022. Famously, she broke her fibula while celebrating Canada's OT victory at the 2021 Worlds, but returned to the ice on a stretcher to get her gold medal. She also captained the Wisconsin Badgers and brings an instant leadership pedigree to Toronto.
Nurse considers her versatility to be a key on-ice factor in her style of play. She noted that in the last Olympic year, she played with nearly every forward on the roster, and pointed out her ability to contribute in a variety of situations as a strong point.
Nurse, 28, skated in 20 PWHPA games last season and recorded 14 points (7G, 7A). She played one season in the CWHL with the Toronto Furies, where she recorded 27 points (15G, 12A) in 29 games before the league's folding and subsequent formation of the PWHPA. Also a former Badger, Nurse was an alternate captain in her senior season. As with Fast and Turnbull, Nurse also has two Olympic medals; she also broke the points record for a single Olympic tournament in Beijing in 2022.
She and Turnbull overlapped at Wisconsin for two seasons. All three have played together while representing Canada for the past five years, too.
Hearing from all three players, it's clear how much of an impact Kingsbury's position as GM had on their respective decisions to sign in Toronto, as opposed to any of the other teams who offered them contracts.
"Blayre texted me in the morning, it said, I signed in Toronto lol. That was a fun text to get," Nurse said. "I'd also heard about Renata... I knew that was going to be a franchise to be reckoned with, so I texted my agent & said so, can we get a deal in Toronto done?"
"I knew that Gina, after speaking with her, was building a franchise with an incredible culture," she added. "I knew that Toronto was going to be a very sought-after franchise. I figured if I could get in with the Toronto girls, it would be a pretty good situation for me."
Turnbull said she wasn't initially considering Toronto, but that changed once she spoke to Kingsbury.
"Leading into Friday, Toronto wasn't really on my radar for a city that I thought I wanted to live in. As soon as I spoke to Gina... I told her that if she needs another career change that maybe she could get into car sales, because she sold me right away," she said.
"As soon as I hung up the phone after our conversation, I had really strong thoughts about wanting to move to Toronto," she added. "Despite me being quite intimidated about the size of the city, I think the setup with our facilities is going to be amazing, and obviously, turning down a spot offered by Gina as a GM would've been a crazy thing to do."
Nurse was a part of the PWHLPA team involved in negotiating the CBA and said it was "a pretty crazy experience."
"It was a lot of long hours, a lot of meetings and really tough conversations," she said. "I think obviously, there's so many tangible things that have come out of the CBA. So many people want to focus on salary and this and that, but the little things to us really matter."
Nurse pointed out examples: things like having a separate, designated area for their hockey equipment while traveling (as opposed to holding sticks in their laps or bus aisles), as well as having proper locker rooms for visiting teams.
"It's the little things that actually do add up and are very meaningful and really make it a true, professional experience," she said. "There's so many things within our CBA that we were able to agree upon. That make a huge difference and creating a professional atmosphere. I'm so happy with where we're at, and I know that when the next CBA is being negotiated in eight years, they'll be at a very good spot to negotiate even better for our players."