If you were looking for teams wearing targets on their backs during the opening round of the Tim Hortons Canadian Curling Trials, women’s division, they weren’t hard to find.
Like, defending champion Shannon Kleibrink or Canadian champion Jennifer Jones. And another supposed top-four seed in Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton. All of them lost at Rexall Place, although none was admitting a first-round defeat in an eight-team round-robin constituted much of a big deal.
The lone top-four seed to win, Cheryl Bernard of Calgary, needed a precise double takeout with her last stone to score a 10th-end fiver and overhaul Thunder Bay’s Krista McCarville 11-7.
Kleibrink was scrambling from behind the eight-ball throughout in an 8-3 loss to fellow Calgarian Crystal Webster. Jones bowed 8-5 to Amber Holland’s Kronau, SK., outfit and Lawton blew the early advantage of a first-end deuce and was nicked 8-7 by Kelly Scott of Kelowna, the runner-up in the last renewal of Trials.
In almost every case, the losers claimed a history of bouncing back from early defeats.
“It’s not our forte to come out strong in the first game,” said Kleibrink. “We learned a lot about the ice and rocks. I started with two very straight rocks that just wouldn’t curl. It took us too long to realize my rocks weren’t curling.”
Kleibrink won her first in 2005, lost three in a row, then won seven straight to earn the Olympic ticket to Torino.
“That’ll have to be the end of the slow starts,” she said. “But, in fairness, she (rookie Webster) made great shots that forced us to make something really good just to get a point. They played a terrific game.”
The unsung Webster, riding a five-game Trials winning streak extending back through the Prince George qualifiers, agreed.
“Our goal was just to work hard to get control of the game and I think we managed that. But anybody can beat anybody here. Results in a field this tough are no surprise. We believe that we can do it here and we may have been flying under the radar for a time but nobody flies under the radar here for long.”
Holland hit Jones with a second-end deuce and stole the third and fourth ends for a 4-1 lead. The action boiled down to an exchange of deuces thereafter.
“I know we’ll come out better tomorrow,” said Jones, whose Winnipeg team bounced back from death’s door to win the last two Scotties titles. “It’s just one loss and we have some experience, which helps. You don’t expect to go through undefeated. We’ve always had success at bouncing back.”
Holland, relatively unsung, too, scoffed at suggestions seeding meant much in the event. Three of the four winners in Round One were pre-trials qualifiers.
“Where you’re seeded doesn’t matter. It’s a round robin. You play everybody.”
But how do you handle drawing a three-time Canadian champion for openers?
“We didn’t really worry about who we were playing,” said Holland. “We want to go out there, figure out the ice and feel comfortable and let the rest take care of itself. We play Jennifer all the time on the tour. I haven’t worried about who I play since junior days. That’s when I learned. It has never really mattered. When I was 17 years old I was playing in women’s ‘spiels against Sandra Schmirler and if you didn’t figure out how to not worry that you were playing Sandra Schmirler you got your butt kicked pretty fast.”
Jones twice battled back to within a point but that was all she could write.
“We were happy we were in a position where we could keep the pressure on and maybe force her to play more difficult shots,” said Holland. “We stole that two-point lead but it’s never really safe. A lot of shots can be made. We were a little sloppy in the 10th end. Sometimes I think it is tougher protecting a lead on this ice than coming from behind because it curls so good.”
Scott stole a deuce in the fourth end to go up 3-2 and turn her assignment around. After yielding two in the first, she required a clutch shot in the second to avoid yielding another pair in the second.
Another deuce in the sixth and three in the eighth should have placed the Kelowna outfit on easy street. But, looking at an innocent pair in the 10th, Scott’s rock hung out until the last possible moment before erasing one of the two enemy stones to preserve the win.
“I threw it and waited for it to curl up and at the hogline it just didn’t make a move,” she said. “So then there was a little panic on what should we do with it? Yes, it was scary.”
Scott, too, pooh-poohed pre-event seeding as an issue.
“I don’t think it means a thing,” she said. “I don’t know if Prince George will have a bearing on this or not. But it’s a very even field and it’s hard to pick favourites out there in every game. We can look back on the last trials and we won a close one from Colleen Jones and that’s what you need. You need to sneak out that first one and pick up some momentum.”
Said Lawton, a two-time Saskatchewan champ:
“We’re a team that never gives up. We won our provincials in ’05 and lost our first two. Then we came back and won seven straight. At Scotties last year we lost our first three and still made the playoffs by coming back with six straight wins. So this is not going to be an issue for us. The first game is a matter of learning the ice and the weight and how you need to throw it. There’s no extra pressure. It’s just a matter of making shots.”
Bernard yielded control to McCarville in the seventh end when the Lakehead crew struck for three and a 6-4 edge. But the Calgary team answered with a pair and then won it in the last end with the big shot and the multiple count.
“Yeah, just a routine double for five,” quipped Bernard. “But you know that’s one we wanted to win.”
McCarville wasn’t unhappy with her team’s effort.
“We were looking good and she made that great shot. I thought we played pretty well. We didn’t have a horrible game. And those kind are frustrating to lose. I caught on to the ice and felt confident with it and I do feel confident with it. But the last end was a bit of a rush, we had five minutes left on the clock. But, we lost our first game in Prince George and then won our next four so we can do that again.”