After four years of riding the curling roller-coaster of wins and what-might-have-beens, Team Chelsea Carey is calling it quits.
Now, the reigning Manitoba champion skip is preparing for what comes next: a new team, a new Olympic cycle and a big move out west.
On Tuesday afternoon, Carey announced the news in a bittersweet Facebook post: A month after claiming a bronze medal at the 2014 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the foursome that included third Kristy McDonald, second Kristen Foster and lead Lindsay Titheridge had thrown their last rocks together.
It's a gentle ending with no hard feelings. Through a breakout 2011 season, three provincial Scotties finals and the Olympic trials, they were friends to the end.
"I feel so lucky to have been able to play so long with the girls," Carey said. "Kristy was my best friend before she was on my team, and with the other girls, we played together so long we ended up becoming so close. To accomplish everything we were able to accomplish, it's just been incredible. I'm so grateful to have had that."
For Carey, the curling road now leads out of Manitoba and all the way to Edmonton, where she will skip a new team with former Ontario junior champion Laura Crocker, 22, at vice and Jen Gates at lead. While they're still deciding who their second will be, they will keep Carey's father and former Brier champion, Dan Carey, on as coach. He'll travel from Winnipeg to help guide them through spiels.
McDonald, who is expecting the birth of her first child this spring, will return to the skip stones with a rink that includes third Kate Cameron, second Leslie Wilson and lead Raunora Westcott.
The new Team Carey is planning to make their debut at a bonspiel in Grande Prairie, Alta., at the end of the month. Still, Carey hasn't decided when she'll move to Alberta full time, pending how her job search pans out. And though it will be hard to leave her hometown, and the roar of the Jets -- "I'm sad about that," the diehard fan laughed -- the opportunity makes sense, she said.
"I'm in a position where I don't really have anything holding me," she said. "That's where all the spiels are anyway. And the girls that I'm playing with are really talented and in a position in their life where they can all go really hard. It just was a perfect storm... You put the team together based on skill levels and commitment levels and we're all in a similar place that way."
On the flipside, the curling depth in Manitoba many times confounded Carey's quest to make it to the national championship.
Alberta won't be much easier, with its own host of sure-shooting women. She will be regularly battling aganist Val Sweeting, who knocked her out of this year's Tournament of Hearts in the semifinal game. But hey, it's no worse than sharing a province with Jennifer Jones.
No matter what happens, this may not be the last Manitoba has seen of Carey, and who knows -- the 2014 Tournament of Hearts may not have been the last time she wears a bison on her back.
"It's hard for me to leave, it still feels like home," she said. "I do hope I end up back here eventually. Things change. I'd love to end up back in Manitoba."