The Scotties Tournament of Hearts provincial women's curling championship has a strong field, with four former provincial champion skips and a fifth with national experience among the 10 teams.
But it's a former Canadian champion -- a woman who might not need to throw a take-out all week -- who stands out in the crowd.
Alison Goring of the Bayview Golf and Country Club is making her 15th appearance at the provincial event, which begins today at the Dixie Curling Club in Mississauga. However, it's her first visit since 2001, and just getting there took a lot of adjustments.
For starters -- literally -- Goring is throwing lead rocks.It's not uncommon for a skip to throw vice rocks -- two of the 10 teams will be doing that this week -- but a skip throwing lead rocks is rare.
"I always had good draw weight," Goring, 43, said of her days throwing skip rocks. Now, those draws are guards utilizing curling's four-rock free guard zone.
The rest of the end, Goring calls the game, a talent which took her to a Canadian championship and three provincial titles.
"Alison has probably the best strategy in the world," fellow skip Jo-Ann Rizzo of Brantford said. "She's very strong upstairs."
Goring also adjusted her team, bringing in vice Cathy Auld (a former skip) and lead Melissa Foster last season and second Heather Moffett this season.
WINNERS IN GALT
The team did well on the cashspiel circuit, winning an event in Galt, but then didn't make it out of zone qualifying in December. Their only chance to reach the provincials was to claim one of the two spots in the Challenge Round last weekend.
In that event, the Goring team won all four of its games, beating each of the top three seeds on the way, to reach the provincial Tournament of Hearts.
"Well, we practised a lot," Goring said of her team's turnaround.
"Hopefully we can play as well as we have been the past couple of weeks."
Goring's first game today is against 2005 provincial champion Jenn Hanna of Ottawa.
The two skips have a history, but not as rivals.
When Goring won her Canadian title in Ottawa in 1990, Hanna, then 10 years old, carried the Ontario flag for the team in on-ice ceremonies.
"I have a lot of respect for Alison," Hanna said.
There is another matchup of former provincial champions in the first draw, with Krista Scharf of Thunder Bay (2006) facing three-time winner Sherry Middaugh of Coldwater.
Rizzo has extensive national experience in women's cashspiels, Olympic trials and Canada Cups, and in mixed play, but has yet to win an Ontario women's title.
The bonspiel ends on Sunday, with the winner advancing to the national Tournament of Hearts in Lethbridge, Alta., on Feb. 17-25.