RED DEER, Alta. — Expectations for Kerry Galusha were not particularly high coming into the 2012 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
The Yukon/NWT skip is playing in her ninth Scotties and has had the kind of dismal record on the national stage typical of teams from Yukon/NWT.
A 4-7 record in 2005 and again 2009 stands as her career best at the Canadian women’s curling championship and there was little reason to expect much better out of her at this year’s event.
And then Saturday happened.
First, Galusha won the pre-event individual skills competition on Saturday, just the second time in history a player from Canada’s North has won the skills contest prior to a Scotties. Kelli Turpin won in 2007.
And then less than an hour later, Galusha came back out on the ice at the Enmax Centrium and authored the most unlikely of upsets, taking down home province Alberta 8-7 in an extra end thanks to a walk-off angle-raise takeout for the winning point.
Galusha, however, was perhaps the least suprised of anyone about her early success, saying she felt surprisingly comfortable with the playing conditions coming into the day.
"I feel wonderful," Galusha told reporters. "A lot of times we come here and struggle on arena ice. We never play on it. We have to play on club ice that’s really heavy and doesn’t curl a lot.
"We practised (Friday) and I told my team, ‘I love this ice.’ I feel the most comfortable I’ve ever been on arena ice."
Alberta skip Heather Nedohin, who was playing in front of a large and partisan crowd, said she felt like her team got beat by a northern team that wasn’t the usual doormat Canadians expect at national events.
"I would say that’s a veteran, experienced Yukon team. I’ve been watching her team throughout the years and they’re not getting blown away. They are getting games that are extremely close.
"Honestly, she played like a hot shot today. Really, she played extremely well."
Galusha wasn’t nearly as hot Saturday night, however. A terrible second end against P.E.I.’s Kim Dolan saw the northerners surrender a startling six-ender en route to a 9-5 loss.
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Jennifer Jones second Jill Officer and third Kaitlyn Lawes were also in the playoff round of the skills competition Saturday morning, but came up short.
Officer was eliminated in the quarter-finals, while Lawes made it to the semis before stepping aside.
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Sudbury’s Tracy Horgan made her rookie debut at the Scotties a successful one on Saturday, defeating P.E.I. 7-6 in an extra end.
Horgan stole the winning point, just as she stole the final end of the Ontario final to advance to her first Scotties.
"It was awesome," Horgan, 25, beamed afterward. "It’s the first time we ever played in such a big environment and in front of so many people. It was really exciting for us."
Horgan said she was advised to ignore the lights and big names once she arrived here. "You just have to treat it like it’s any other game," said Horgan. "Don’t get too caught up in the experience of the field or the names you’re playing. Just play the rocks, not the names — because there’s a lot of experience in this field.
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Team Canada’s Amber Holland limped into this event after a disastrous cashspiel season that saw her squad earn just $900.
And so no one was too sure what to expect from the defending champions when they took to the ice against Newfoundland’s Heather Strong on the opening draw Saturday afternoon.
The game was tight for the first half but a costly miss by Strong in the eighth end handed Holland and company a steal of three en route to a 7-4 victory.
Holland is hoping the win was a harbinger of a turnaround to come. "I think earlier in the year we probably had lots of games like that, we just didn’t follow it up on the next game after that," said Holland.
"I think I’ve said to people here that the key for us is consistency."
The Holland foursome had an 18-19 win-loss record on the cash tour this winter and scored just seven out of an available 51 points in their appearance at the Continental Cup. Their rankings tell the story — 23rd on the points-based Canadian Team Ranking System and 83rd on the money list of the World Curling Tour.
It is all a far cry from the heady days at the 2011 Scotties in Charlottetown when the foursome out of Kronau went on a week-long run that culminated with them stealing in the 10th end of the Canadian final to dethrone a Jennifer Jones team that was the three-time defending champion at that point.