Marking their Territory

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. -- They are supposed to be the free space on the bingo card.

Somebody just forgot to tell that to the girls from the Yukon-Northwest Territories.

Kerry Koe's Yellowknife team has been an immense surprise so far at the Canadian women's curling championship, rattling off four wins and moving into contention for a playoff spot.

Only once in the history of the Scott Tournament of Hearts has a team from the north qualified for the playoffs, and that was way back in 1983.

IN THE FACE OF ODDS

Koe and her teammates Monique Gagnier, who throws last rock, Kelli Sharpe and Heather McCagg-Nystrom could do that this week, even in the face of odds pegged by some to be as long as 100-1.

"In a way it's better than if people were expecting us to do well," said Gagnier, a 30-year-old who is making her second Scott appearance.

"(The curlers) are starting to show us respect. It's been said since the beginning of time that the Territories is a gimme game, but you can't really say that anymore."

Just getting to the Scott is an immense challenge when you live in the far north.

Koe and McCagg-Nystrom live in Yellowknife, while Gagnier resides in Hay River and Sharpe lives inside the Arctic Circle in Inuvik.

The team formed this year and played together only four times before coming to Newfoundland -- once at a bonspiel in Saskatoon and in three levels of territorial playdowns.

"This is only our fifth competition curling together, because we don't get to meet up as often as we'd like," Gagnier said.

"It costs us a lot of money. Sponsorship is big, and it's hard to get sponsors in the north, but we've got some great ones, and it helps us so much. We wouldn't be able to afford it otherwise."

The team qualified for nationals by winning an eight-team territorial championship and then the four-team Yukon-Territorial playdown in Whitehorse.

"A ticket to Whitehorse is $1,200, and there are five of us flying there, so you really want to win when you get to those playdowns," Gagnier said.

"We may not get the big games all the time, but there are other ways that we've been conditioning and practising and working our way up to this."

NEWTS

The "Newts," as they are affectionately called in curling circles, have been turning heads all this week, with their ability to play the game and their fun-loving attitude, which comes through in their love for dancing between ends, high-fiving after every good shot and even participating in the Heart Stop Idol contest in the pub.

"It's part of what our team needs to get pumped up for a game," Gagnier said. "We need to stay up and bubbly. If we get too intense and too quiet, then we're not shooting well."

Things will get considerably tougher for the Koe foursome down the stretch, with games against Manitoba, Saskatchewan, B.C. and Canada.

Still, they are not intimidated.

"We're curling well and we can shoot just as well as anyone out there," Gagnier said. "We'd like to make playoffs and just keep going."

If the run does end in the next few days, will the girls go home happy, knowing they proved a lot of people wrong?

"Nope. We want to win, no question about it, and I think we can. We know we can."


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