In 1937, Nurmela made his debut for Hammarby IF in Elitserien, Sweden’s top tier. He won three Swedish championships – 1942, 1943 and 1945 – with the club. He formed a feared line together with right winger Stig Emanuel Andersson and centre Kurt Kjellström.
Nurmela was known as a versatile player with great skating abilities: a sniper, playmaker and grinder combined. He won the scoring league in the Swedish top division in both 1949 and 1950. In total, he made 204 competitive appearances for Hammarby, scoring 154 goals.
In 1950, Nurmela joined rivalsAIK, which caused some upset among the Hammarby supporters. He stayed with the club for two seasons, after which he played three years with Saltsjöbadens IF in the lower divisions.
He returned to Hammarby in 1955–56 as a player-coach, before retiring from hockey after the Elitserien season. He worked as the head coach of Hammarby between 1955–1957 and 1966–1971.
Nurmela played 121 international games for the Swedish national team, scoring 84 goals, and regularly captained the side. Nurmela represented his country at several major tournaments, such as several World Championships. He competed at the 1948, 1952 and 1956 Winter Olympics and won a bronze medal in 1952, finishing fourth in 1948 and 1956.