Bernard & Co. confident

TODD SAELHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:02 AM ET

Lights. Camera. Curling.

This take, Cheryl Bernard promises to be ready.

Her team, says the Calgary Winter Club skip, is in the zone -- and in character -- for the 2009 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which hits the stage today in Victoria, B.C.

"This year, it feels different," said Bernard, whose Calgary rink returns to the women's national championship two years after falling short of the title at the annual event in Lethbridge.

"We're not so focused on the fuss. We're focused on the curling. We're a lot more intense about it.

"We have experience and belief in ourselves," Bernard continued. "Two years ago, I don't know if we believed we could win a Scott. That takes time."

Two years ago, they weren't far off winning it all, falling to PEI's Suzanne Gaudet in the second tiebreaker game.

"But now we do believe we can win," said the provincial champion.

"We went through Alberta undefeated (earlier this month in Sylvan Lake). Now, we feel we can win at the national level."

It's good to have that confidence, especially since the Albertan's pursuit for the Canadian crown begins with undoubtedly the biggest test of the nine-day event.

Bernard plays her first game of the Scotties tonight at 8 p.m. (TSN) against the defending Scotties champion, Winnipeg's Jennifer Jones.

But it's not like Bernard needs much added incentive in her fourth trip to the tournament.

"You keep thinking it'll get less exciting, but then you want to get back there so badly -- and you want to win," said the 42-year-old Bernard, who has previously skipped Alberta winners to contend for the national championship in 1992, 1996 and 2007.

"Maybe for me, my age is coming into play. I'm not going to do this much longer -- I'm definitely playing until the Olympic trials -- so I'm giving it my all."

She believes so, too, will her team of third Susan O'Connor, second Carolyn Darbyshire and lead Cori Bartel.

It's the same foursome that made the playoff round two years back in Lethbridge, although their combined experience in high-profile curling wasn't what it is today.

It's only the second Scotties for both Bartel and O'Connor, while Darbyshire is a wily veteran, with a resume that includes a trip to the Canadian championship with her mom, Merline, and Team Manitoba in 1987.

"Carolyn's calm -- never gets ruffled," Bernard said.

"I don't worry about her.

"Cori doesn't have as much competitive experience as the rest of us, but she's risen to the occasion in the big spiels," Bernard continued. "And if Susan has a good week, we're golden. The second time there will be a little better for her.

"None of us were really quite settled last time," Bernard added.

"But we have been playing in front of bigger crowds since then. And I think we have a better belief in each other -- and that's something.

"You can't buy it. You can't bottle it. You've got to create it. And we've done that this year -- it's been solid."

Extra ends

The favourites for the '09 Scotties title are Bernard (Alberta), Jones (Team Canada), Stefanie Lawton (Saskatchewan) and Marie-France Larouche (Quebec). The other contenders are Kerry Galusha (Territories), Robyn MacPhee (PEI), Krista McCarville (Ontario), Nancy McConnery (Nova Scotia), Heather Strong (Newfoundland/Labrador) Andrea Kelly (New Brunswick), Barb Spencer (Manitoba) and Maria Mallett (B.C.). "For the general public, maybe they don't know the teams as well as we do. But we've played them all on the World Curling Tour, and I don't think it's a light field," Bernard said. "There's Jennifer and Stefanie and Marie-France. There's McCarville from Ontario -- she's got a great team. And Heather Strong's team? We've lost to them more than we've beat them. There's nobody out there we can go play and take lightly, but for some of them, it'll be their first time to the Scott, which is a little overwhelming."

Last rock

Calgary's Terry Meek accepted an invitation earlier this week to be the fifth man for Kevin Martin at the Brier ... The Bantam district playdowns began last night in Carstairs with 15 rinks vying for nine qualifying spots for Southerns, March 27-29 at the Springbank Curling Club ... Three rinks -- Inglewood's Dave Rutherford, Lethbridge's Ian Wolsey and Red Deer's Rob Armitage -- are representing the Southern Alberta Curling Association at the senior men's provincials this weekend at Edmonton's Granite Curling Club. The senior women are also out to capture provincial glory at the Granite, with Calgary Curling Club's Linda Wagner, Calgary Curling Club's Peggy Harper and Calgary Winter Club's Diane Foster carrying the colours for Southern Alberta.


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