Road To The Olympic Games

Momentum is key as unpredictable Scotties heads to championship round

Coming into this year's Scotties Tournament of Hearts there were two clear-cut favourites who were supposed to dominate the field and challenge for the title. Then the bonspiel started and everything changed.

Alberta's Chelsea Carey is 7-0, while pre-tournament favourites Rachel Homan, Jennifer Jones feel the heat

The Alberta rinked skipped by Chelsea Carey is a perfect 7-0 so far at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Sydney, N.S. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

SYDNEY, N.S. — Coming into this year's Scotties Tournament of Hearts there were two clear-cut favourites who were supposed to dominate the field and challenge for the title.

Then the bonspiel started and everything changed. 

Rachel Homan and Jennifer Jones each had two-game losses in one day. As both are past Scotties champions, they knew the rest of the field would be gunning for them. 

"We've been through a lot of down days and we know how to get through them," Homan said. 

Alberta's Chelsea Carey, the 2016 Scotties champion, has been perfect so far this week, reeling off seven consecutive wins going into the championship round. 

"We've really had to battle through parts of the season. We've all stuck together. And this week has been no different," Carey said. 

Carey, Homan's Ontario rink and Krista McCarville's team from Northern Ontario have all punched tickets into the championship round from Pool A. The top four teams from each pool advance. Manitoba and British Columbia play a tiebreaker Thursday morning to determine the fourth team to advance from Pool A. 

Manitoba skip Tracy Fleury watches a rock as they play Northern Ontario at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts at Centre 200 in Sydney, N.S. on Wednesday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

In Pool B, the Wild Card Team skipped by Casey Scheidegger, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Jones' Canada  team have also advanced to the championship round. 

"It's awesome," Scheidegger said. "We learned a lot last year about keeping your energy up as you hit the next round so that's what we're trying to do here."

Now the pressure ramps up just a little bit more as the field narrows and the playoffs creep a little closer. 

As the only undefeated team this week, Carey said she knows she now has a target on her back and is going to relish the intensity moving forward.

"There are butterflies and your heart races a bit," she said. "My dad used to tell me as a kid that when you're nervous it's your body telling you you're ready to do something. It's not necessarily fun to go through when you're in it, but you learn to enjoy it. It means you have the opportunity to do something great."

Scheidegger had the second best record in the preliminary round, finishing 6-1 that included a Wednesday night win over Jones. 

WATCH | Wicked shot from Casey Scheidegger puts Wild Card atop Pool B

Scheidegger's double takeout in the 7th end helped push Team Wild Card to a 7-4 win over Team Canada in Draw 14 to sit 1st in Pool B with a 6-1 record at the end of Scotties round robin action. 0:58

"We're feeling really good right now and feeling we're going to continue to develop and grow as this week rolls on," she said. "You want to go into that next round with as few losses as possible. We learned that last year. Momentum is huge in this."

The teams will take their preliminary records into the championship round. They then play the four opponents from the opposite pool with the top four records from that advancing to the playoffs on the weekend. 

WATCH | P.E.I's Birt beats N.W.T's Galusha, clinches Championship Pool berth

Prince Edward Island's Suzanne Birt defeats Northwest Territories' Kerry Galusha 15-5, ties Scotties record for most points in a game by one team and biggest steal (6) in a game. 1:21

Perhaps the most surprising team so far is the P.E.I. rink skipped by Suzanne Birt. Despite losing to Saskatchewan to finish preliminary play, Birt is confident. 

Not only has she clinched a spot in the championship round, she's been on a scoring rampage. Throughout the week Birt put up 15, 14 and 13 points in three different games. Her 15 points tied the Scotties record for most in a single game. 

This is Birt's 10th Scotties appearance. Her first, though, was her best so far. In 2003, Birt went 10-1 through the preliminary round only to lose both playoff games she played. 

Now she's leaning on those tough curling experiences over the years to help guide her into the playoffs.

"I think at 20 or 21 years old we were a bit naïve or something," Birt said. "Just no real pressure. We just went with the flow. Maybe we're just a little more mature now."

Saskatchewan skip Robyn Silvernagle watches a rock during Wednesday's morning draw against Yukon at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Sydney, N.S. Silvernagle won 6-4 to clinch at least a spot in a tiebreaker game for the championship round. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Birt said the team did as much preparation as they could before traveling to Sydney. But despite putting in as much time as possible, it doesn't come close to what the Tour teams have played.

"We might have liked to play a few more spiels," she said. "We practised as much as we could on good ice and it helped us prepare for this week. It's a lot different curling in clubs."

Another team that always seems to fly under the radar but poses a serious podium threat is Northern Ontario. Krista McCarville finished the preliminary round with a 5-2 record. This is her seventh Scotties appearance. 

WATCH | N.O.'s McCarville beats Manitoba's Fleury:

Krista McCarville of Northern Ontario beats Manitoba's Tracy Fleury 7-5 to secure Championship Pool Berth. Fleury will face B.C.'s Sarah Wark in a tiebreaker. 0:30
  

She admitted the team plays its best when the pressure starts to rise. 

"For some reason when our backs are against the wall we seem to play better. We bear down and make those shots," McCarville said. 

McCarville played Carey in the Scotties final in 2016 and would love nothing more to make it back into the championship game.

"We're not taking any team lightly and I don't think any teams are taking us lightly," she said. 
 

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