January 31, 2012
Hearts features slice of same-old
By GEORGE KARRYS, Special to QMI Agency
The field for the Canadian women’s championship, the Tournament of Hearts, is now set for Red Deer, Alta., from Feb. 18-26 (TSN) and for better or worse, it’s a big slice of same-old.
Event organizers and fans will likely be pleased to see Jennifer Jones (Manitoba), Kelly Scott (B.C.) and Marie-France Larouche (Quebec) making yet another appearance. Michelle Englot (Saskatchewan) and Kim Dolan (P.E.I.) have even more veteran savvy. Last year’s surprise bronze medallists led by Heather Smith-Dacey (Nova Scotia) are a youthful crew with a schooled skipper at the helm. The other Atlantic teams, Newfoundland’s Heather Strong and New Brunswick’s Andrea Kelly, have become synonymous with the championship in recent years.
The host province will be represented by Edmonton’s Heather Nedohin, and one can only guess as to how her team will be received in Red Deer. With Calgary’s Shannon Kleibrink and Cheryl Bernard sidelined prior to the Alberta semifinal, Nedohin’s hybrid squad — which features two former Nova Scotians in Beth Iskiw and Laine Peters — offers a breath of fresh air ... although this is still another team stacked with veteran experience.
Only Tracy Horgan’s Sudbury, Ont. outfit represents a bonafide breakthrough of youthful exuberance. Of course, once Sherry Middaugh was eliminated in the provincial semifinal, Ontario was guaranteed to be sending some youngsters west.
Horgan played giant-killer in dispatching defending champion Rachel Homan, whose Ottawa foursome — with an average age of just 22 — went 9-0 during the week and led by one, with last rock, coming down to Homan’s final two stones. However, disaster struck. One double-jammed runback later, Horgan made a draw and Homan missed the target to drop a steal of three and hand the Sudbury crew an unlikely victory.
As befits the wild nature of provincial finals (most of which are played on more unpredictable club facility ice) there were other wild finishes. In Vancouver, Scott lined up a basic peel on her first stone and flashed, giving opponent Marla Mallett an open draw to the button to apply some serious pressure. Mallett missed the rings entirely, and Scott’s draw for the win merely needed to hit the paint.
But no final was more gripping — and wacky — than Jones’ victory in Portage La Prairie.
In a nod to her rampage of last-minute victories on the way to the 2008 world championship crown, Jones needed five straight elimination wins to book her return to Red Deer — and she did it. She did it with second Jill Officer playing competitively for the first time all season, following the birth of her first child — days before the start of the provincial Officer had yet to confirm her status in the starting lineup.
Jones did it despite dodging an enormous bullet in the sixth end of her final against last year’s finalists, skipped by Chelsea Carey. Trailing by a 3-2 scoreline, Carey missed a short, tantalizing runback for three points that would have propelled her into a 5-3 lead. Instead, Jones stole a single for a 4-2 lead.
The final end was a sizzler, and featured four consecutive 100% throws from both skips. The only difference was last-rock advantage: when Jones made her second double-tap to the four-foot, it was for the victory.
If Carey was frustrated, imagine what teammate Kristy McDonald was feeling. The former skip had lost back-to-back Manitoba curling finals in 2005 and 2006, which now leaves her 0-4 in the search for the red heart (she’s also lost three semis).
“I said to the other girls, we’d better win the Olympics after this because this has been four finals,” McDonald told intrepid Winnipeg Sun curling writer Jim Bender after the latest tragedy. “You go out there and you have the end set up and you don’t win it, what can you say?
“I think I’m getting better. Last year, I couldn’t talk. I was completely in shock. So I’ve been preparing for this all year and I knew it was a possibility. I mean, playing against Jennifer Jones is like playing against the Kevin Martin of women’s curling, and the odds aren’t usually in your favour. That’s just the way it is.”
Classy stuff from one of the sport’s finest hard-luck competitors. Here’s hoping she’s willing to try again.
Team Carey and other oh-so-closers can only look to the past to try and figure out when their turn will come. Toronto’s Mike Harris lost back-to-back Ontario men’s finals to Russ and Glenn Howard in 1992 and 1993, and even grabbed a silver medal at the 1998 Olympics before he qualified for his first (and only) Brier. Al (The Iceman) Hackner of Thunder Bay is well-known for his two Brier and world titles, but he lost two Brier finals in 1980 and 1981 — in the latter case, by giving up a devastating three-ender while up 4-2 over Mantoba’s Kerry Burtnyk in the final end — before his breakthrough in 1982 … Another zinger from McDonald after her loss to Jones, with regard to the upcoming 2013 Olympic trials in Winnipeg: “I want to make that my swan song because I don’t think I can handle (much more of) this.”
More “same-old” names showed up for the final of the National Grand Slam in Dawson Creek B.C., which was preceded by CBC’s very loud departure from the sport. Edmonton’s Kevin Martin and Coldwater, Ont.’s Glenn Howard clashed yet again in a major final but this time the Howard crew came out on top with a 6-5 win. Howard cashed $25,000 to Martin’s $16,000; Jim Cotter of Kelowna ($10,000) and Brad Gushue of St. John’s ($7,000) made the semis; and quarterfinalists Niklas Edin (Sweden), Jeff Stoughton (Winnipeg), Kevin Koe (Edmonton) and Thomas (Pants) Ulsrud of Norway all earned $6,000 … Mike Gaudet beat young gun Brett Gallant to win the 2012 P.E.I. Men’s Tankard and is off to the brier in Saskatoon in March. A whack of other men’s provincials are poised to begin with the majority of them concluding on Feb. 12.