Just three-mendous

Manitoba’s Einarson team wins third consecutive Scotties title

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Two years ago, Kerri Einarson flew to Prince George, B.C. with a brand-new maple leaf on her back and a heart filled with excitement. Then the virus broke loose, the nation locked down, and her debut on the world stage was scuttled: just hours before she was to compete in her first world championship, the 2020 tournament was cancelled.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/02/2022 (187 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Two years ago, Kerri Einarson flew to Prince George, B.C. with a brand-new maple leaf on her back and a heart filled with excitement. Then the virus broke loose, the nation locked down, and her debut on the world stage was scuttled: just hours before she was to compete in her first world championship, the 2020 tournament was cancelled.

So when she learned that the worlds would return to Prince George in 2022, a make-up for the event lost to COVID-19, the skip and her team made each other a vow: they needed to get back there, they said. They needed to wear the Team Canada colours to worlds in front of the home crowd, and wash off the disappointment of missing out on the 2020 event.

Well, they made it — and this time, they will march into Prince George as three-time Canadian champions.

Team Canada skip Kerri Einarson, third Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur (from left) pose with the trophy and medals after winning the Scotties Tournament of Hearts Sunday in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Andrew Vaughn / the Canadian Press)

On Sunday night, the Gimli Curling Club-based rink of Einarson, third Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur clinched their third straight Scotties title, edging 9-6 past hometown favourite, Northern Ontario champ Krista McCarville, in a thrilling ultimate battle in Thunder Bay.

“It feels absolutely amazing,” Einarson said, beaming on a Zoom call minutes after the victory. “To win once is really hard. To do it three times, back to back to back, is extremely hard. I’m so proud of my teammates. They have been unreal all week, and they definitely made my job easy.”

It was a history-making moment. With the win, Einarson became the fourth skip ever to have won three Scotties in a row, joining Saskatchewan’s Vera Pezer, Nova Scotia’s Colleen Jones, and Manitoba’s own Jennifer Jones; and all three of her wins were touched by the pandemic. Her first worlds were cancelled; her next two Scotties were played in a bubble.

Einarson watches a rock as Northern Ontario second Ashley Sippala (left) and lead Sarah Potts look on in championship action Sunday in Thunder Bay. (Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press)

“It’s been tough,” Meilleur said. “It hasn’t been normal for for a long time for us, and it was really nice that we actually got to have a little bit of fans in the closing weekend here, because we do miss fans, and getting those big cheers, and just having that atmosphere in the building… We just found a way to do it, even though it’s hard, and I don’t know how we did it.”

In Thunder Bay, Einarson’s team shone. They were dominant in the round robin, going 8-0 and sweeping the tournament’s first all-star team. So their only loss was a stunner: they dropped a first playoff game to New Brunswick’s Andrea Crawford and slid into the 3-vs-4 match against another upset Scotties favourite in Team Wild Card, Tracy Fleury.

But the Team Canada foursome righted the ship. They knocked off Fleury on Saturday, and then easily handled Crawford 8-4 in Sunday morning’s semifinal. It marked the first time they had gotten to the end coming the long way through the 3-vs-4 game; but when they came into the championship match, they were ready.

At first, it looked like Einarson’s team had the final locked down. In the third end, Einarson threw a pretty hit-and-roll with her first to set herself up for an early deuce. After holding Northern Ontario to the force in four, Einarson orchestrated a big fifth end, capitalizing on two fizzled McCarville hit-and-rolls to strike for three, and take a 6-2 lead into the break.

McCarville was not out of tricks. She got her own deuce in six, cut Einarson down to one in the seventh and nearly tied the game in the eighth, though her final hit in that one stuffed, and she had to settle for a deuce. She went into the ninth end trailing the reigning Canadian champions by one.

In the ninth end, with hammer, Einarson gambled on what she thought was a biter, throwing a takeout for what she hoped would be a deuce; but the biter wasn’t in, sticking them with a single. McCarville battled hard to generate something in the 10th, but Einarson’s team choked off their options: in the end, McCarville didn’t have much of a chance on her last shot.

“It was kind of a Hail Mary, and it just didn’t work,” McCarville said. “It’s disappointing, because we’ve been here before, and you don’t know when you’re ever going to get back. It was six years for us, and you don’t know when. To lose it in the final is tough, for sure. We love the game, and we try so hard at it… coming a wee bit short is tough.”

Einarson, meanwhile, played through that final end with her mind flashing back to her past, very dramatic Scotties finals.

“I was like ‘oh boy, Kerri just don’t throw it through the house, Kerri just don’t flash,’” she said, laughing. “They’re an unreal team and they make a ton of shots. We knew we had to make all of our shots to come out with a win, and that’s what we did.”

Though the final prize went to a tournament favourite, the road there was full of surprises. The playoff mix — expanded this year to six teams, in a last-minute format change due to COVID-19 disruptions — included Crawford, Northwest Territories veteran Kerry Galusha and Nova Scotia’s Christina Black; not what anyone would have predicted, but it was delightful.

It was, according to Regina sports broadcaster Jamie Nye, the first time in Scotties history that a provincial rep from at least one of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia or Ontario didn’t make playoffs, and that’s despite the expanded format. Of course, both Einarson and Fleury play out of Manitoba, but still, what an interesting historical note.

And that McCarville, one of the savviest skips in women’s curling, should fight back from a middling 5-3 round robin to claw into the final, and take it right to the last shot: that is also a gift, for fans who crave the thrills that Canada’s women’s curling championship delivers, when it’s at its best.

The lesson, then, from this Scotties is one about always expecting the unexpected. But it is also about the broader topic of the state of curling in Canada: a reminder that great talent lies all over the nation. It’s just that, for all sorts of reasons, some find their way into the spotlight, while others toil outside it, never given the same focus but always posing a threat.

“When you get to the Scotties stage, anything can happen,” McCarville said. “I don’t think there’s any team here that you could ever play and feel like, ‘oh, this is a win,’ because every single team has earned their spot and are great curlers, and that’s the exciting part about curling.”

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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