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Team Bernard pays The Soo a Visit

They’ll be sliding out of the hack on home soil, less than 700 kilometers from their Calgary headquarters.

But in another respect, Cheryl Bernard, Susan O’Connor, Carolyn Darbyshire and Cori Bartel are heading into the great unknown.

Such is life wearing the Maple Leaf and going for gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.

“We had some conversations (with Edmonton’s Kevin Martin, who’ll be representing Canada at his third Olympics), and even he said: ‘It’s at home. It’s in Canada.’ He doesn’t even know what to expect,” said Bernard on Friday afternoon.

“You don’t really know what you’re going to get, with this event being in Canada,” added O’Connor. “It’s going to be different. It’s the great unknown, and we’ll just enjoy it when we get there.”

Skip Bernard, third O’Connor, second Darbyshire and lead Bartel swept their way into the spotlight’s glare on Dec. 12 at Edmonton’s Rexall Place, when they edged 2006 Torino Olympian Shannon Kleibrink and her outfit 7-6 in an all-Calgary women’s final at the Olympic Trials.

Bernard’s final shot, a draw to the eight-foot ring for the win, was heavy on the drama — and appeared to be heavy out of the hack. But it bit just in time at the back of the eight, and the Bernard foursome was able to book its tickets to Vancouver.

The Calgary Winter Club foursome leaves for the West Coast on Feb. 10, and opens its round-robin schedule Feb. 16 with games against Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott and Germany’s Andrea Schopp.

The gold-medal hopefuls made a special appearance at the 2010 Scotties Tournament of Hearts on Thursday and Friday. The Bernard quartet took in Thursday evening’s draw at the Essar Centre, which featured a showdown between host Ontario and Jennifer Jones’ two-time defending Team Canada.

During the noon hour on Friday, they played a quick, private six-end game against Shelley Nichols’ Newfoundlanders on Essar Centre ice before fielding questions from the local and national media.

And the Stampede City gals were scheduled to make a special visit to the HeartStop Lounge on Friday evening, with an Up Close and Personal Q&A opportunity at 6 p.m. and an autograph session at 6:30 p.m.

It’s all part of becoming an overnight celebrity, something the Bernard rink has learned since mid-December.

“You know, it’s funny. It takes a while to get through the grocery store now. It used to be so quick,” laughed Bernard. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed. And just that people will say, ‘Hey, Cheryl!’ I always think it’s someone I know, and it’s an absolute stranger.

“And I bet there were close to 500 e-mails after we won” at Edmonton,” added Bernard. “I’m still not through it all. That was a bit overwhelming, because I’m a person who likes my inbox cleaned out.

“But you know what? It’s great. I’ve never complained . . . I’ll just have to leave more time for groceries.”

Noted O’Connor with a chuckle: “Cheryl’s the face of the team, so I think she gets it a little more than the rest of us do. She tried to leave the (Essar Centre) last night, and was stuck for 45 minutes. Somebody grabs you, somebody else wants to talk to you, and it’s all wonderful.”

Still, the Bernard rink has done its best to keep focus and perspective.

“I still go home and have to make lunches for my kids before they go off to school,” grinned Darbyshire.

“We’d be exhausted by the time the Olympics come, if we were to stay at that intensity level for weeks and weeks,” added O’Connor. “We’re trying to stay steady and prepare the best we can.”

Bernard’s rink, which had participated in two of the past three Scotties tournaments, was sorely tempted to squeeze in Alberta playdowns and a possible berth in the Canadian women’s championship between Olympic Trials and the Olympics.

“You want to be greedy. You want to play in everything,” laughed Bartel.

In the end, though, logic prevailed.

“The Scotties is such a wonderful event, and you definitely know what you’re missing,” said O’Connor.

“It’s hard to watch. This is what you love to play in — the arena, the feeling,” added Bernard. “We could have (gone for it). We talked about it.
“But to get up for two big competitions like this, it was advised that we should reconsider. And that was tough for us.”