ST. CATHARINES, Ont. â€” Chelsea Carey returns to the Canadian women’s curling championship feeling tighter with her team and oddly rested.
Among the bonuses for winning the Scotties Tournament of Hearts is an automatic berth in the next one as Team Canada. So defending champions Carey, third Amy Nixon, second Jocelyn Peterman and lead Laine Peters avoided the grind of provincial playdowns this year.
The Calgary team heads to St. Catharines, Ont., for this year’s event starting Saturday with full gas tanks.
“The biggest thing that’s different is you don’t have to win your provincial, so you have all this time,” Carey said. “That’s been kind of weird, but kind of nice that it’s been a little slower pace leading up for us.”
They’ll need their reserves to repeat as Canadian champions, says the skip.
“It’s a long, long week and it’s an absolute grind,” Carey said. “I always laugh at people who say, ‘You went to this town. What did you see?’ I’m like, ‘Nothing.’ You play two games a day and have a nap in between because you have to. You just won’t survive the week otherwise.
“For sure we’re coming in a little more rested than probably most of the other teams. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that’s a bad thing, I don’t know, but I like it.”
The Glencoe Club foursome claimed the 2016 Tournament of Hearts in Grande Prairie, Alta., in Carey’s first year skipping the team.
She drew to the eight-foot ring with her final shot to beat Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville 7-6 in the final.
Peters said in Grande Prairie their team was still a work in progress.
Now in their second season together, they’re more in tune with each other’s personalities and modes of communication, which can help them ride out the emotional highs and lows at nationals, according to the skip.
“We’re more comfortable with each other and with everybody’s stress reaction, how they’re going to react if they are under some sort of stress or pressure,” Carey said. “It makes it easier to survive such a long week when you know each other a little better.”
In the 55 years of the Canadian women’s championship, seven teams have won back-to-back titles: Rachel Homan, Jennifer Jones, Kelly Scott, Colleen Jones, Sandra Schmirler, Heather Houston and Vera Pezer.
Carey, McCarville, Ontario’s Homan and 2006 Olympic bronze medallist Shannon Kleibrink from Alberta are the headliners of this year’s tournament at the 5,300-seat Meridian Centre.
A glaring absence is Jones, the reigning Olympic champion, who didn’t make the Manitoba provincial final.
The top four teams after the preliminary round advance to the Page playoff with ties for fourth solved by tiebreaker games. The final is Feb. 26.
Games start Thursday evening with Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Yukon and New Brunswick playing off to get into the 12-team main draw.
This is the final year of the unloved pre-tournament qualifier as all provinces and territories will participate more fully in the national men’s and women’s championships next year.
The Hearts winner represents Canada at the world championship March 18-26 in Beijing and gets a return trip to next year’s tournament in Penticton, B.C.
A medal of any colour at the world championship guarantees that team a spot in December’s Olympic trials in Ottawa. Jones and Homan have secured two of nine women’s berths so far.
If Homan won nationals and finished in the medals at worlds, the Olympic berth would then go to the highest-team in the Canadian Team Ranking System that didn’t have a trials spot.
Carey was fourth in last year’s world championship in Swift Current, Sask., and thus missed out on nailing down a berth.
“That’s highly disappointing for sure,” Peters said. “This year, we would love to have another opportunity. Those opportunities are very rare. We recognize that.
“We’ll go in the Scotties with the mentality we’ll do our best and the chips will fall where they may. Hopefully we end up on top and have another shot at the worlds.”
Prize money and Sport Canada funding over a two-year period adds up to $205,900 for the Tournament of Hearts winner. Runner-up prize money is $26,900, third is $21,900 and fourth is $16,900.
The victor also qualifies for the 2018 World Financial Group Continental Cup of Curling in London, Ont.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press