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Saskatchewan runs Scotties streak to seven wins

The slender blonde skip and her Regina-area team staunchly remained the only undefeated skip in the Scotties Tournament Of Hearts on Tuesday night.

Amber Holland of Team Saskatchewan (Photo: Andrew Klaver Photography)

Holland skipped third Kim Schneider, second Tammy Schneider and lead Heather Kalenchuk, to an 8-5 victory over previously unbeaten Rachel Homan of Ontario in an afternoon battle of giants, then drummed out Kerry Galusha’s Polars from Yellowknife 9-7 with a five-ender in the seventh panel the key offensive.

“They (Territories) were playing pretty well, putting rocks in good spots, and we struggled for a time and didn’t follow up on that” said Holland of the late-shift assignment.

“Obviously, we’re at the point now where we know we have to stay focused. Your game plan doesn’t differ depending on whom you play. You focus on what you can control. You sometimes look at a type of strategy another team likely will play against you based on how we play. But we play what’s in front of us, and focus on our objectives.”

Saskatchewan doesn’t appear to have the toughest row to hoe from here on in. The team faces Nova Scotia (4-3) and Newfoundland (1-6) on Thursday, New Brunswick (2-5) and British Columbia (3-4) on Thursday.

“We try not to put a face to a record or a team that may be considered strong or weaker,” said Holland, “because we know it’s all about what we do on the ice and not about what they do.

“I mean, Kerry Galusha made a lot of shots tonight and we had to sharpen up. But by sitting up top with a target on our backs we know it means we’re going to have to be sharp and on top of our game.

“We have to try to keep it all in perspective.  It isn’t about being 7-and-0, it’s all about in-turns, out-turns, hit the broom, throw the right weight, that’s all it is. You keep all the other things that are going around you to the outside, and that’s what you do for the three hours you’re on the ice.”

Some have suggested the Holland team is a throwback to the Saskatchewan hitting teams of old.

“We’ve hit a lot here because we’ve gotten some leads,” said Holland, “but I wouldn’t brand us as a Saskatchewan hitting team.

“We aren’t an overly aggressive team, true. We don’t need a ton of rocks in play to generate points. We figured that out. Sometimes you can get overly aggressive and clutter it up and you can’t generate points. Sometimes the simple old-school split the rings and get your two works best. That comes from being successful at playing that way. That works for us.”

Overall, Holland says women’s curling skips are more aggressive today that in days of yore.

“Teams are getting more aggressive and more comfortable with rocks in play with the ability to play runbacks and shots like that. That’s a part of our game that we’ve stepped up.”

The afternoon match featured the poorest effort (68 per cent shooting) turned in by the 21-year-old Homan this week. She and her Ottawa team rebounded in the evening to thump New Brunswick’s Andrea Kelly 8-1 and advance their record to 6-and-1.

“I think we’re in a real good spot so we’re pretty happy about that,” said the Ontario skip.

“It was important to bounce back. I said we would. But we still have to enjoy it.”

During the afternoon fracas, the young Ontario team struggled. A pinched nerve in the shoulder of lead Lisa Weagle didn’t help. The team gave her the night off and subbed in veteran Sherry Middaugh.

“It’s one game,” Homan of the loss. “You’re going to lose eventually. It’s tough to win every game. Now’s the time to lose, not the final.”

In other late matches, homestanding Suzanne Birt (4-3) of Charlottetown won her third straight, scoring on the last three ends to double up Nova Scotia’s Heather Smith-Dacey 6-3. The Bluenosers fell to 4-3.

Alberta’s Shannon Kleibrink moved up to 4-3 by shading Manitoba’s Cathy Overton-Clapham of Winnipeg 6-5.

In afternoon tilts, defending champion Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg remained within firing distance of the lead at 5-and-2, walloping Stacie Devereaux of Newfoundland 10-4. Birt stole an extra-end deuce to defeat Kleibrink 7-5 and British Columbia’s Kelly Scott of Kelowna (3-4) bounced back from a morning pounding to defeat Marie-France Larouche (3-4) of Quebec when Larouche’s last-rock shot to win tracked and failed to curl.

Birt’s team had the backing of solid partisan crowds in both games.

“It’s a pretty good confidence boost for sure,” said vice-skip Shelly Bradley. “We sat down and we said, ‘you know what, we’re not making enough shots? We’d better start converting our misses into shots’ and it happened, we got on a bit of roll. The win over Team Canada in front of that crowd helped. It was a help, make no mistake! And we feed off that energy.

“Everybody here wants us to do well and we want to make everybody proud. We’re finally started to finish some stuff.”

The Islanders played a perfect extra end which proved the difference in the afternoon when Kleibrink’s last shot, an attempted blast into a cluster, failed to curl sufficiently.

“We had great angles, the girls made great shots and we finished it off with a couple of guards,” said the victorious P.E.I. skip.

“Everybody has to make all their shots in an extra end. We were fortunate in that we made one or two more than they did.”

Kleibrink agreed.

“They made some great shots. Ours didn’t quite curl enough, then they got right to the middle in the pocket. We were never going to get that out. The second rock that didn’t curl hurt us in the end.

“We still have four great teams left to play so we needed that one tonight (against Manitoba). It just felt like a good day. But a tough, tough day. I  mean, those two teams played really good and pushed us to the limit!

“Cathy O was on fire. She made an in-turn shot that I thought was absolutely impossible impossible in the ninth end to hold us to one. We were sitting four and I expected to score a bunch.”

It wasn’t enough, however, to sink the Manitobans to the 1-6 level.

“I didn’t want to come here and win one game or two games,” said Overton-Clapham. “We wanted to make the playoffs and that’s not going to happen now. So we want to finish off on a strong note for sure.  We played two teams in playoff contention and gave them a run for their money today . . . we played a lot better . . . so we’ll come back and do that tomorrow. We’d like to play the spoiler.”

And the opportunity for that is there today, in spades. The Manitobans goes against Ontario this afternoon at 2:30 and Team Canada this evening at 7:30.

Jones grabbed control against an old rival, B.C.’s Kelly Scott, en route to an impressive 10-2 win in the morning.

Scott’s crew missed some key shots in the opening end and yielded a steal of four, gave up another in the second, and Jones controlled the game the rest of the way.

” We came out better, which we tend to do after a loss so that was good, but we got a few breaks early, obviously, so I felt bad for them,” said Jones.

Jones’ former third Overton-Clapham of Manitoba was not so fortunate. With a chance to beat Nova Scotia with her last stone in the 10th end, she missed her draw for two, sending the game to an extra end without hammer where Dacey-Smith made no mistake with her last rock — a draw to full eight-foot for an 8-7 win.

Larouche posted a see-saw 10-6 win over Devereaux while Galusha won her second with a 7-4 win over New Brunswick’ Kelly.

Saskatchewan plays morning and afternoon, then takes tonight off.

“We’re taking our families and our 21 supporters that are here out for dinner with the $1,000 we won in the Hot Shots,” said skip Holland.