Has Chelsea Carey's moment finally -- and mercifully -- arrived?
The hard-luck Winnipeg skip, who has the misfortune of being better known in recent years for the handful of major curling events she hasn't won rather than the abundant number that she has, is nothing less than the hottest female curler in the world this month.
And she and her team -- third Kristy McDonald, second Kristen Foster and lead Lindsay Titheridge -- could not have chosen a better time to peak.
With the Canada Cup looming next week in Moose Jaw, Sask. -- at which a priceless berth in next year's Canadian Curling Trials at the MTS Centre will be up for grabs -- the Carey foursome has overcome a slow start to to qualify for the final of major cash events in each of the last three weekends, including the recent Grand Slam spiel in Brantford, Ont.
With a win and two seconds, Carey has won $29,000 in just the last three weeks -- a queen's ransom by women's curling standards -- and will head into Moose Jaw with all kinds of momentum and every indicator pointing to a long-awaited breakthrough.
And that's the scary part -- that Chelsea Carey and her team once again appear to be on the very cusp of a breakthrough. Because perhaps no other women's team -- probably no other elite curling team of any kind, save perhaps for the equally hard-luck Mike McEwen -- has been on the verge of making the big breakthrough so many times, only to come away empty each and every time.
In just the past two winters, Carey and her team have lost two provincial finals that would have gotten them to the national Scotties Tournament of Hearts for the first time. And then on top of that, they lost the final of last year's Canada Cup, a game in which the very first of those precious eight Trials berths were up for grabs.
There is paying your dues. And then there is overpaying. And for all the winning they've done on the cash spiel circuit the last couple of years -- they've been at or near the top of the money list three winters in a row -- it sometimes seems like the Carey team has paid out in an emotional sense a lot more than they've been repaid in a monetary one.
"If you knew you were going to lose in a final," said the 28-year-old sales rep over breakfast on Wednesday, "it'd probably be a lot easier if you just lost a lot earlier on. But you don't know that, of course. And you can't think like that. So you play all out every time, all the time...
"But yes, it was heartbreaking."
Heartbreaking in different ways, however. The two provincial finals the Carey team lost were wrenching because they shot lights out in both games and still lost -- to a Cathy Overton-Clapham team in 2011 that seemed to have destiny on their team in addition to four great players and to a Jennifer Jones team last year whose skip authored one of the greatest walk-off shots in provincial championship history to deny Carey again.
The Canada Cup loss, however, was even worse, Carey said, because the team played so poorly in a loss, also to Jones, and was left afterward to wonder not "why?" but "what if?"
"I'd way rather lose," said Carey, "knowing that we played our absolute best."
The problem for Carey, of course, is that even her absolute best hasn't been good enough in Manitoba at a time when the women's game here is dominated by Jones and Overton-Clapham.
But there too, there appears to be an opportunity for a breakthrough this winter for Carey.
The Jones team has been curling all season without their skip, who was both pregnant and recovering from knee surgery earlier this fall. And now that Jones had her baby last week, she will need still more time to recover before returning to the ice in time for, she hopes, January's provincials.
While the Jones team has curled well in the skip's absence, they haven't won since their very first event in September and are not nearly the juggernaut without Jones that they are with her.
Overton-Clapham's foursome, meanwhile, has been almost entirely a non-factor on the money tour this fall, winning just $2,500 through six events.
Both teams will join Carey in Moose Jaw next week in what is just a seven-team women's event -- there will also be a seven-team men's event. And whatever happens next week at the Canada Cup, it's a virtual certainty the three teams will meet up again at the women's provincials in Stonewall in late January.
If you were making book, you'd have to give the advantage among those three teams to Carey right now.
Clearly, they've paid their dues -- and then some. But the question remains: Can they finally cash in?
WITH the Canada Cup set for Moose Jaw next week, most of the top teams in the country are taking a rare weekend off, but there's still going to be some top teams competing in Morris this week at the men's and women's Dekalb Superspiel.
Switzerland's Alexander Attinger will be among the 16 men's teams competing at the Morris Curling Club today through Sunday. Other men's teams in Morris include squads skipped by former Manitoba champions Dave Elias and Randy Dutiaume, former Saskatchewan champion Scott Bitz and last year's Manitoba semifinalist, Willie Lyburn.
The women's event will run simultaneously and has also attracted 16 teams, including former Manitoba champions Karen Fallis, Janet Harvey, Darcy Robertson, Jill Thurston and Barb Spencer.