Manitoba curls into contention at Tournament of Hearts
Chelsea Carey's rink ties Hearts record with 15-point effort
All things considered, Chelsea Carey would rather be in Sochi, Russia.
But qualifying for her first Scotties Tournament of Hearts after years of falling short in tough Manitoba provincial championships is as good as consolation prizes get for the 29-year-old from Winnipeg's Fort Rouge Curling Club.
And Carey is making the most of it, taking her record to 7-1 after an 8-4 victory over New Brunswick's Andrea Crawford (5-4) on Wednesday night. Earlier, the Carey rink trounced Quebec's Allison Ross (1-8) by 15-3.
The 15 points tied the Scotties record set in 1989, when Alberta beat Newfoundland 15-6.
Carey reached the Manitoba finals twice, losing in 2011 to Cathy Overton-Clapham and in 2012 to Jennifer Jones, the four-time Scotties champion who will represent Canada at the 2014 Winter Games.
"We wanted to be here badly and lost a couple of heartbreakers and that's no fun, but it wasn't the only thing for us," said Carey. "The [Olympic] trials was our first goal and this was our second goal."
Her only loss so far was an 8-3 setback this week to defending champion Rachel Homan's seemingly unstoppable Canada team. Homan's Ottawa foursome extended its unbeaten string to eight games with a 9-4 victory over Prince Edward Island's Kim Dolan. They have outscored their opponents 62-26 and have yet to play a full 10 ends.
Saskatchewan's Stefanie Lawton (7-1) posted an 8-6 win over Nova Scotia (3-6) and Ontario's Allison Flaxey (3-5) completed a sweep of her side's two games on Wednesday with a 12-2 victory over the Yukon's Sarah Koltun (1-8). Flaxey had the upset of the day in the afternoon draw with a 6-5 win over Alberta's Val Sweeting (6-3).
Carey put together her team with lead Lindsay Titheridge, second Kristen Foster and third Kristy McDonald specifically to take a shot at the Olympics.
The rink has been among Canada's best for a few years, winning often in national and regional events, and did well enough to earn an invitation to the Canadian Olympic trials in Winnipeg.
When that dream died with a fourth-place finish, Carey admits it was tough to find the energy to go to last month's provincial championship, let alone win it.
"I took a week off and didn't throw," she said. "I forced myself to go back, but I wanted no part of it.
"I was just going through the motions. It took a long time to get our heads back there, but we'd played in a lot of provincials before and we knew going into the trials that it was something we'd have to transition to. It wasn't easy, but we did a good enough job to pull off the win there."
Once she got her Manitoba team jacket and got to Montreal, she was thrilled to finally have a chance to represent her province at the Scotties.
On the team website, Carey describes herself as "Unemployed, AKA Starving Curler."
She worked as a sales representative for a mattress company for six years, but was finally told to choose between curling and her job.
"It was the year of the trials and I'm not going to pick that job over curling," she said. "My initial thought was to get a new job, but with trials in December it's hard to start a new job and say I need six weeks of holidays.
"I've been unemployed since then. It will have to change after this because I can't pay my bills."
Manitoba's win over Quebec had some wondering if curling needs a mercy rule. It was Quebec's worst beating since a 13-1 setback to Alberta in 1991.
A rule obliges teams to play at least eight ends no matter how badly they're trailing.
"I'm not so sure I believe in the eight-end rule," said Manitoba's McDonald. "If things aren't going well, the other team should be able to get out when they feel it's time.
"They're a good team. They're much better than that. But they're just having a tough go. When things go sour, they go sour."
Ross had plenty of support among the 1,790 spectators at the Maurice Richard Arena, but her squad has been off the target consistently all week. She was also missing second Brittany O'Rourke to the flu bug that has sidelined several players and officials during the week.
"Today's game was tough for sure," said Ross, whose team also lost 6-5 to B.C. in the morning draw. "We didn't play well at all."
Flaxey turned around what had been a dismal week with her win over Alberta. Ontario held off a charge that saw Alberta score two in the ninth end. She took out Sweeting's stone on the button in the 10th to prevent a steal and secure the victory.
"We haven't been playing as well as we could have all week," said Flaxey, the 2001 Manitoba junior champion now based out of Listowel, Ont. "To show that we are a good, solid team and that we belong with the favourites and can play with the favourites, it shows people why we're here."
Ontario is all but eliminated from playoff contention, but can still play the role of spoiler with three round-robin games remaining, including a match Thursday afternoon with Manitoba.
"It's all we have left so you've got to love doing it," said Flaxey. "We've got a couple of tough ones left and hopefully we can at least shake things up."
The afternoon draw saw Homan put up a 7-3 victory over British Columbia (5-4).
Homan has a shot at being the first skip to go undefeated in the tournament since B.C.'s Linda Moore in 1985. Jennifer Jones went undefeated in the round robin last year but lost to Homan in the final.
"I'm confident we can win the rest of our games," said Homan. "You have to be confident in your abilities.
"You put in the practice and the hours and the work. I believe 100 per cent in our team. We're in a good spot now and we have to keep playing the way we're playing."
Lawton downed Newfoundland's Heather Strong (4-4) by 7-3.
Other early matches saw Alberta top Newfoundland 9-5, New Brunswick beat P.E.I. 9-6 and Nova Scotia down Yukon 7-3.