Shannon Kleibrink's Alberta rink takes unique path to Scotties

Alberta skip Shannon Kleibrink, the 2006 Olympic bronze medallist, is back at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts for a fifth time, seeking her first-ever title with a rink that hasn't spent a lot of time together this season outside of their eight events.

Reaches national championship despite not spending 'ton of time together'

Veteran skip Shannon Kleibrink will try to win her first Scotties Tournament of Hearts in five attempts, starting Saturday in St. Catharines, Ont. The 2006 Olympic bronze medallist is making her first Scotties appearance in six years after beating Val Sweeting to win the Alberta Scotties last month. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press/File)

Shannon Kleibrink and Lisa Eyamie were supposed to keep a low profile during their semi-retirement from curling in 2014.

The plan called for a few practices, playing one or two events a month for fun, and no sports psychologist or off-ice training.

"What I've found in my career is when you're out there just to have fun and don't have the expectation of being the team on top of the podium, often good things can happen [because] you're playing relaxed," said Kleibrink, the veteran skip from Okotoks, Alta., who won an Olympic bronze medal in 2006.

In that first season, Kleibrink and third Eyamie gelled as a back end, realized they still could make shots and had the drive to go further. They hooked up with 20-somethings Sarah Wilkes and Alison Thiessen for the 2015-16 campaign, and competed in about 10 events, including a fifth-place finish at the 2016 Alberta Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

"Shannon and I were a bit more committed last year and played more," said the 39-year-old Eyamie, who competed at the 2009 Olympic pre-trials. "After last year's success we said we would go for a [2018] pre-trial spot."

With pre-trials not until November in Summerside, P.E.I., Team Kleibrink will attempt to win its first-ever national Scotties in five tries as one of 15 rinks starting play Saturday at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines, Ont., following a thrilling 6-4 victory over Val Sweeting two weeks ago in the final of the Alberta provincial championship.

"It was almost like winning for the first time. When we won, I didn't even know the dates of the [national] Scotties," recalled Kleibrink, 48, a five-time Alberta Scotties champion whose best finish at the national event is a silver medal from 2008.

"In our sights, it was always the pre-trials and [2018] Olympics, so this is a bonus," added Eyamie, who will leave her director's job at IT consulting company Long View Systems in Calgary to play at the Scotties.

Kleibrink and Eyamie stayed at a hotel during provincials while Wilkes, a three-time Canadian university champion, and Thiessen, who won gold as an alternate at the 2014 world junior championships, remained at their homes.

They had limited practice time and never met for meals or to discuss goal-setting and game strategy.


"All the things you do to get to this level," Eyamie said, "we've never done any of that the three years I've played with Shannon. We haven't spent, outside events and a couple of practice weekends, a ton of time together."

Kleibrink, who used to travel 60 to 80 days of the year for curling, is more conservative than Eyamie in her expectations for the team at Scotties after advancing to one final in eight events this season.

"Obviously, teams like [two-time Scotties champion Rachel] Homan and [defending champion Chelsea] Carey have put in so much time and they're at the top of their game. We would have to have an extra special week to be there in the playoff in the end," said Kleibrink, general manager at Crescent Point Regional Field House, a recreation centre in Okotoks.

Kleibrink said she feels "much better" after a back injury suffered while working out before the Alberta Scotties forced her to miss two games at provincials and give way to fill-in Heather Nedohin, who stepped back from competitive curling in 2015 after winning the national Scotties and world bronze medals in 1998 and 2012.

"It's not a major injury, just a slipped disc," said Kleibrink, who has received physiotherapy for one hour three times a week since provincials.

Kleibrink, who noted the pair would continue to split skip duties in St. Catharines pointed to Nedohin's talent and the ability of Eyamie, Wilkes and Thiessen to adjust quickly to a different skip for their provincial win.

"For Heather, the talent is still there and she hasn't played all year. I'm not as consistent making shots as I would have been a few years back," said Kleibrink, who shares a love with Eyamie of playing blackjack and will take a break from play at Scotties to visit Niagara Fallsview Casino.

"We're going to draw on the youth and energy of [second] Wilkes and [lead] Thiessen, and hopefully Heather and I can bring that experience. It's getting hard to keep up with the up-and-coming teams, so the main goal will be leaving it all on the table and having a fun time." 


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