Deb Popovic is about to slide into open another chapter in her curling fairy tale.
Her Fort Garry foursome was the surprise winner of the Manitoba senior women’s championship and they were scheduled to leave for the national men’s and women’s senior championships in Digby, N.S., Thursday morning. Just don’t pinch her before she throws her first rock on Saturday.
“I got a pink slipper from one of the girls at work because the newspaper (Winnipeg Sun) called us ‘Cinderellas in sliders.’ Everyone’s so excited for us,” Popovic said on the eve of her first appearance at a national curling event. “The support we’ve gotten from friends and family is just so overwhelming.
“And it’s exciting for us, for sure. It’s just been a whirlwind of activity with so many things we have to prepare for and, of course, practising.”
Popovic, third Brenda Robinson and second Monica Noakes have never been to Nova Scotia while lead Sherrell McColm used to work there before retiring. And never mind making their debut on the national stage, Popovic has only been to two provincials before, both seniors. No women’s, juniors or Mixed.
“Before that first game, we’re going to have to take a deep breath just to soak it all in,” she said. “There’s so much pride in wearing that Buffalo on your back that we’re living in a dream.”
Make that a new dream.
“This was never really our dream,” admitted Popovic, who was seeded dead last in her provincial pool. “Our dream was just to make the provincials.”
At the nationals, Popovic will be competing against Nova Scotia legend Colleen Jones, who recovered from surgery to address her bacterial meningitis in time to skip a squad to a provincial title. Not to mention New Brunswick’s Heidi Hanlon and Ontario’s former Canadian senior champion Joyce Potter.
“Our plan is to do what we did at the provincials,” Popovic said. “There was no pressure on us. We just curled our game and came out on the right end of the scoreboard.”
CHAMPIN’ AT BIT: Neepawa’s Kelly Robertson also earned his way to a Canadian championship for the first time.
“It’s coming pretty quick and we’re really looking forward to it,” said Robertson, who replaced Mike McEwen at the 2003 Canadian Mixed when McEwen was unable to go due to a conflict with the World Universiade. “That gave me a bit of a taste for this.
“I’ve been working at it a long time and it’s nice to finally win one.”
Robertson’s team certainly has more national experience than Popovic’s. Third Doug Armour has been to the Brier, the national senior men’s, Masters and Mixed before while lead Bob Scales has been to the Brier. Second Peter Prokopowich may be going to his first national but the Dauphin veteran is a curling hero in Western Manitoba.
Robertson’s crew, however, will not have an easy task as the field includes B.C.’s former Brier champion Greg McAulay, Saskatchewan’s Brad Heidt, Alberta’s Brad Hannah — with former Brier winner Don McKenzie at second — and Newfoundland’s Mark Noseworthy (playing third for Jeff Thomas).
“Hopefully, we’ll do the same as (Manitoba’s) Jeff Stoughton did (in the Brier final),” Roberston said, referring to the Canadian men’s champ. “I expect that we’ll make the playoffs.
“We’ve got a real good team. We’ve played 17 games and only lost one and that was our first one to (Brandon’s) Brian Fowler.”
Robertson, who was unbeaten at the provincials, curled with Noakes in high school in Neepawa.
BITERS: Just to clear up some confusion. John Usackis played third for Orest Meleschuk when they won the 2002 Manitoba Masters. But Ken Grove replaced Meleschuk at skip when a health problem prevented him from making the trip. Grove then skipped the squad to a Western Canadian title … The MCT’s Dekalb SuperSpiel for men and women will be held in Morris this weekend.