For the first time in three years, Canada has a different team wearing the Maple Leaf at the women's world curling championship.
Amber Holland's Saskatchewan team staged a curling coup at the Canadian championship, toppling the Jennifer Jones team from Winnipeg that had won it three consecutive years.
As first-time national champions, Holland, third Kim Schneider, third Tammy Schneider, lead Heather Kalenchuk and alternate Jolene Campbell enter uncharted waters at the Capital One World Women's Curling Championship starting Friday in Esbjerg, Denmark.
"It's a different feel I think for us, but we're pretty comfortable," Holland said. "Over the last few years a lot of international teams have come to Canada to play. We've played a lot of them on the World Curling Tour.
"We know the environment is going to be different. We're not naive enough to not know that. We're going to make the best of the environment, throw the rocks and work the ice as best we can."
Only two games are scheduled Friday following the opening ceremonies, in which Danish Crown Prince Frederik will throw the ceremonial first rock at the Granly Hockey Arena.
Neither game involves the Canadians, who get underway Saturday morning versus former world champion and Olympic bronze medallist Bingyu Wang of China.
Holland's team was a dark horse at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Charlottetown and they are again at the world championship because of their lack of international experience. Canada is so deep in competitive curling teams, however, that whoever represents the country is expected to contend for gold.
German Schopp looks to repeat
The 12-country field includes defending world champion Andrea Schopp of Germany, who won the title last year in Swift Current, Sask. Two-time Olympic champion Anette Norberg of Sweden has a new, young team behind her. Switzerland's Mirjam Ott has twice won a silver medal at the Olympics.
Anna Sloan, whose team beat Canada's Trish Paulsen to win the world junior title earlier this month, will skip Scotland at the women's world tournament. Liudmila Privivkova of Russia is a former world junior champion, as is Norway's Linn Githmark.
Patti Lank of the U.S., a world silver medallist in 1999, is a transplanted Canadian from Saskatchewan making her fifth appearance. Host Denmark, the Czech Republic and South Korea round out the field.
Holland's team managed their eating and sleeping carefully at the Scotties in order to stay fresh for the Feb. 27 final. They had meal plans drawn up by a nutritionist and Holland's sister Tara cooked for the team when they had back-to-back draws.
A nutritionist also helped them prepare for the world championship and Holland hopes to be able to maintain the same routine as much as she can.
"The intent is still to fuel and make sure we have enough gas in the tank for the end of the week," she said.
The last Saskatchewan team to represent Canada at the women's world championship was Sandra Schmirler in 1997.
Schmirler's team won the third of their three titles that year and they captured the first Olympic gold medal awarded in women's curling a year later in Nagano, Japan. Schmirler died of cancer at the age of 36 in 2000.
The province takes curling seriously and many of its top curlers are products of small-town rinks. Although she lives in Regina, the 36-year-old Holland grew up on a farm near tiny Dilke and curled in nearby Bethune, population 380.
The Schneider sisters are from Kronau, a town of about 200 people southeast of Regina. The team has made the Kronau Curling Club their home club.
"It's a small club and a small community," Holland explained. "This team has been together for six years. We've always played out of Kronau.
"Any time we wanted to practise, we have sheets of ice whenever we want. Whereas in the city, you have to be a little more selective on when you can practice and play. Out there, we get the run of the rink when it's not being used by anyone else."
Holland and her teammates had time to wrap their heads around their new status as Canada's representative during the two days they were stranded waiting for a flight home from the national championship.
A snowstorm that swept Atlantic Canada the day after their victory cancelled their flight out of Moncton, so they spent two nights at the home of former world and Olympic champion Russ Howard.
"We definitely took advantage of that opportunity to make some plans," Holland said.
"We talked a lot when we were stranded about what we wanted to do when we got home. The key priority for us was getting our lives in order and making sure everybody was OK with work and family."
Holland is executive director of the Saskatchewan Curling Association and Kim Schneider works with developmentally challenged children.
Tammy Schneider is an officer manager at the Saskatchewan Volleyball Association, Kalenchuk is a French immersion teacher and Campbell works in human resources for Saskatchewan Government Insurance. The team is coached by Merv Fonger of Moose Jaw.
Holland says many of the calls she fielded at the SCA after her Scotties win were from people she didn't know wanting to talk to her about her victory and the world championship.
"We kind of became a little bit famous overnight," the skip said. "I went in to buy some things the other day and the lady said 'I have to ask, are you …?'"