Saskatchewan lone unbeaten rink at Hearts
Amber Holland was sitting on a locker-room floor eating a sandwich between draws at last year's Tournament of Hearts and thought, "this doesn't feel right."
That moment made the Saskatchewan skip adjust her approach to this year's Canadian women's curling championship.
After going 6-5 and finishing out of the playoffs last year in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Holland felt she and teammates Kim Schneider, Tammy Schneider and Heather Kalenchuk needed to manage their schedule better at the Scotties.
"It's like 'OK, I'm at a Scotties, I'm sitting on the floor of a smelly hockey locker-room eating a sub,"' Holland recalled. "It doesn't seem like anything that would upset you, but it was one of those things, 'Oh, this doesn't feel where we need to be.' "
So Holland enlisted the help of her sister, Tara, who has rented a house in Charlottetown. She cooks meals there and ferries the food to the Saskatchewan team at the Civic Centre when they have back-to-back draws.
"The nutrition planning was the biggest thing," Holland said. "This year we're way more prepared for all of the tight times between games, anything the ice conditions were going to bring us or anything that didn't go quite right, travel plans.
"Water off a duck's back. When we step on the ice, it's all about performing."
Perform, they have. Victories over the Territories and Ontario of 9-7 and 8-5, respectively, put the Kronau Curling Club rink alone atop the standings Tuesday at 7-0.
Rachel Homan's Ottawa team fell 8-5 to Saskatchewan for its first loss of the tournament. But Homan bounced back with a quick 8-1 victory over New Brunswick's Andrea Kelly later in the night to sit 6-1.
Ontario lead Lisa Weagle didn't play in the second game because of a sore shoulder so alternate Sherry Middaugh played instead. Homan expects Weagle to be back on the ice Wednesday.
Canada's Jennifer Jones, third at 5-2, posted easy 10-2 and 10-4 wins over B.C.'s Kelly Scott and Stacie Devereaux of Newfoundland and Labrador respectively.
A logjam for fourth at 4-3 included Nova Scotia's Heather Smith-Dacey, P.E.I.'s Suzanne Birt and Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink.
The top four teams at the conclusion of the preliminary round Thursday advance to the Page playoffs. The winner of the game between the top two seeds advances to Sunday's final, while the loser drops down to Saturday's semifinal to meet the winner between the third and fourth seeds.
Ties for fourth will be solved by tiebreaker games.
Scott, a former Canadian and world champion, and Quebec's Marie-France Larouche were 3-4, Kerry Galusha of the Territories and New Brunswick's Andrea Kelly were 2-5. Manitoba's Cathy Overton-Clapham was 1-6 alongside Newfoundland and Labrador.
The showdown of the Hearts preliminary round looms Wednesday evening when Jones faces her former third Overton-Clapham. Jones abruptly fired Overton-Clapham last year after they'd won four Canadian titles and a world championship together.
With Overton-Clapham virtually eliminated from playoff contention, she'll have to be satisfied with playing spoiler for teams in playoff contention and they include Jones.
"I don't want to come here to win one or two games," Overton-Clapham said. "We wanted to come here and make the playoffs so we want to finish off on a strong note for sure.
"It'll be exciting. The place is going to be packed and it will be fun to be part of."
The two women should have a strong sense of how the other will call a game after playing together for so many years. But Jones doesn't give that factor much weight.
"I'm not sure how they're playing this year, if they're playing aggressive or defensive," Jones said. "I haven't really watched any of their games.
"Obviously we played together for a long time. I'm sure it will be a good game."
Overshadowed by the hype for the Canada-Manitoba game are the strong starts of Saskatchewan and Ontario. They were the less-heralded teams coming into this year's Hearts, taking a back seat to Jones, Scott and Kleibrink, who won an Olympic bronze medal in 2006.
Homan won a Canadian junior title just last year and was second in the world junior championships. The skip and third Emma Miskew are 21, second Alison Kreviazuk is 22 and Eagles is the oldest at 25.
Holland and Homan rattled off five straight wins to start the tournament to set the stage for a showdown Tuesday, but Homan and Miskew struggled with draw weight. Holland was in control of the game from the fourth end on. Saskatchewan followed up with a 9 7 win over the Territories at night.
A strong start has allowed Saskatchewan to concentrate on its own game, stay in a pleasant bubble and not be distracted by the position of other teams in the standings.
"You don't want to put yourself in a position where you're relying on other teams to get you to playoffs," Holland said.
The 2010 Scotties was the first national championships for the team of Holland, the Schneider sisters and Kalenchuk.
Holland, 36, is executive director of the Saskatchewan Curling Association, 26-year-old Kim Schneider works with developmentally-challenged children, sister Tammy works for the Saskatchewan Volleyball Association and Kalenchuk is a French immersion teacher.
They were surprise repeat winners at this year's provincial championships. The team won four straight to finish the tournament, upsetting Stefanie Lawton 7-4 in the final after Lawton had gone undefeated.
"We kind of found a groove at provincials," Holland said. "It was a team groove and we've brought that here. That's pretty comforting. It's not about one player playing well. It's about the team doing well and doing the things they need to do to get the wins off the board."