Thunder Bay

Northern Ontario curling teams disappointed no qualifiers for national championships

It's not a complete surprise that curling and other sports have been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it doesn't make it any easier on teams that had their hopes of representing Northern Ontario at a national curling level dashed.

Team McCarville selected to represent Northern Ontario at Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Northern Ontario skip Krista McCarville, pictured above at the 2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, could represent the region again at the 2022 Scotties. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

It's not a complete surprise that curling and other sports have been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that doesn't make it any easier on teams that had their hopes of representing Northern Ontario at a national curling level dashed.

The Northern Ontario Curling Association cancelled the 2022 Northern Ontario playdowns, which were slated to be held this week in Kenora. The event was cancelled last week.

The event has both men's and women's curling teams from across the region compete to determine who represents the area at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Tim Horton's Brier. The Scotties are slated to be held in Thunder Bay, beginning later this month, with the Brier set for Lethbridge, Alta., in March.

On Friday, the Northern Ontario Curling Association announced it had selected the team led by Krista McCarville out of the Fort William Curling Club in Thunder Bay to be its representative for the national women's playdowns. The team was chosen based on its position in the Canadian Team Ranking System.

"I totally empathize with them, I think they're right that it does suck, that it isn't fair that they don't get the chance to play," said NOCA executive director Bobby Ray.

"But at the same time, I think we're facing a health situation that's a little bit out of our hands. It's absolutely not the decision that anybody wanted to make, but it's the one we're the most comfortable with." 

Ray said the concern was if one or two teams contracted COVID-19 while at the event it would also result in an unfair competition, as those teams would be unable to complete their games.

The decision, he said, was about safety, even though he understands players are frustrated.

Even though the playdowns were cancelled in late December, the event would not be allowed to proceed based on current provincial regulations.

Dylan Johnson, who was the skip of a team based out of the Fort Frances Curling Club for the men's draw, said while not playing is frustrating, it also has a financial cost.

He said the teams had to agree to bubble-type rules before the event would begin, which would mean essentially staying in hotel rooms, only ordering take-out, avoiding public spaces, and going immediately to and from the arena for games.

Most teams agreed to the rules, he said, but even with that, the event was still cancelled.

"We put in practice time, we did some tournaments, as much as we could due to the COVID circumstances, we put a lot of money into it," Johnson said, noting the team is still trying to get a refund for its accommodations.

"We all booked time off work, I'm sure we can go back to work this week, but some people can't."

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