'Buzz of the building' fuels curlers at Scotties Tournament of Hearts final in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Volunteers, junior curlers, players' families at arena for women's final won by Team Canada
It was an evening with moments of celebration, tension and concern.
The final game in the 2022 Scotties Tournament of Hearts on Sunday night had Krista McCarville's rink representing Team Northern Ontario playing Team Canada, skipped by Kerri Einarson.
McCarville was the crowd favourite, as the rink is based out of Thunder Bay, Ont., where the 2022 competition was held.
Einarson, whose rink is from Manitoba, ultimately prevailed, taking her third consecutive Scotties in a game that came down to the last rock.
Round-robin play was done without crowds in the stands of the Fort William Gardens, but when the playoffs began, Curling Canada announced that volunteers and select junior curlers would be able to take part in the action.
When the McCarville rink started its playoff run, it coincided with fans being in the stands.
"It's pretty uplifting when you make a good shot and you have a lot of cheers, especially when you have people that you know yelling your name, and things like that. It's pretty uplifting," McCarville said after her game against Nova Scotia on Friday afternoon, when she beat Christina Black's rink 11-8.
Fans had signs, and many were wearing northern Ontario curling jerseys as well as foam curling rocks on their heads while others wore their official Scotties Tournament of Hearts jackets.
Cowbells, hand clappers raised noise level
The final game was loud — and also silent — often going between the two at a moment's notice.
The first rock thrown by Team Northern Ontario came after a hush fell over the about 400 spectators.
Throughout the game, moose calls, a signature of the northern Ontario rinks, were heard. Many in the stands called out to the players by name to offer encouragement or praise after a shot. Cowbells and hand clappers also raised the noise level in the partially filled Gardens.
Team New Brunswick was among those in the stands, and fans called out to them after they were defeated just hours earlier by Team Canada.
A key shot in the eighth end, where McCarville picked up two points, resulted in the crowd leaping to its feet, after a few tense minutes of measuring stones.
Curling Canada umpires had to measure three stones to see which were closest, allowing northern Ontario to score its second point.
At one point, chants of "two, two two" were heard, followed by, "three, three three."
Fast forward to the final end and the arena was nearly silent when McCarville took several minutes to figure out her final two shots. She had to make a difficult decision on how to throw her last two stones, to try to get two points to tie the game, and force an extra end.
McCarville missed her last shot, which she later called a "Hail Mary"
The presence in the building, with many in the stands cheering for the hometown rink, seemed to make an impact on the McCarville team, which fed off the energy in the arena.
McCarville said that when her team heard some fans were being allowed in the bulding, it was exciting.
"Thunder Bay's been looking forward to this for a couple years now ... I mean, I don't know how many people were here, but it felt like a full arena, and it was super fun playing in front of some of our family and friends," she said after losing in the finals.
Their opponents also had some friendly faces in the crowd.
"We love having the fans back and we missed the buzz of the building, and we knew that they'd be on their side, but they were cheering for good shots out there and we had some family here," said Val Sweeting, the third on Team Canada.
"We were prepared and we knew we could use it any way we could."
McCarville said although she lost the final game, she and her team received the silver medal, in her hometown.
"It's exciting when you get to do that. I'm very thankful for the fact that it was here in Thunder Bay and we got the opportunity to play in the final. That's what everybody wants. What every curler wants, they want to be in that Scotties final, so I'm happy for that."