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Curling persistence pays off for Northwest Territories skip Kerry Galusha

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Kerry Galusha has seen some things.

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Kerry Galusha has seen some things.

She was a wide-eyed junior curler at the 1998 Canadian women’s championship in Regina, which was a heralding of the hometown Sandra Schmirler team that had just won the first women’s Olympic gold medal awarded in the sport.

“It was absolutely crazy. They were absolute celebrities to everybody, even the other teams,” Galusha recalled. “It was pretty cool to be there and experience that.”

Northwest Territories skip Kerry Galusha watches a rock as they play New Brunswick in playoff action at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts at Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay, Ont., Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. The 45-year-old from Yellowknife will skip Northwest Territories in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts starting Feb. 17 in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

She was the alternate for the joint Yukon/Northwest Territories team that year.

Galusha would return as a skip in 2001 for the first of what will soon be 16 “official” appearances at a national women’s curling championships.

The 45-year-old from Yellowknife will reach 16 skipping Northwest Territories in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, starting Feb. 17 in Kamloops, B.C.

Curling Canada doesn’t include the two years Galusha travelled to the Hearts, but fell short of the main draw by losing out in a pre-qualification tournament in 2015 and 2016.

Galusha’s two appearances as an alternate aren’t counted in the official tally either.

But if Colleen Jones with a record 21 appearances — two pre-date the Tournament of Hearts — is a walking history book of the Canadian women’s championships, Galusha isn’t far behind.

“I love representing the North at the Scotties. I don’t take it for granted,” Galusha said. “I know I’ve been there a lot and living in the North has its advantages for getting to the Scotties that many times.”

Curling Canada giving Yukon, N.W.T. and Nunavut their own separate entries into national championships in 2015 accelerated Galusha’s rate of return.

A lack of competition in the North is a double-edged sword, however.

Canadian curlers below the 60th parallel don’t face the same financial and time commitments northern teams do to travel to events with tough competition.

Galusha’s team spent $15,000 just to get to the Inuvik Curling Club and win their territory Sunday. Travelling to bonspiels in the southern provinces is no less expensive or time-consuming.

Then there’s earning enough wins to be ranked high enough to qualify for the big events held on arena ice, which is crucial preparation for a national championship.

The disadvantage usually manifested in a losing record for Galusha at the national championships.

But she skipped the first all-N.W.T. team to make the playoffs last year with a 5-3 round-robin record in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Galusha, Jo-Ann Rizzo, Sarah Koltun and Margot Flemming beat Manitoba’s Mackenzie Zacharias in a tiebreaker before falling to New Brunswick’s Andrea Crawford in the six-team championship round.

“It’s not easy curling up here. You have to put way more time and money in,” Galusha said. “I have a government job. I’m down to the hour with my leave at work.”

“This year we went to six spiels. That’s the most spiels I’ve ever done, but that’s what it takes if we want to make playoffs at the Scotties again.

“There’s been numerous times I’ve gone to the Scotties and not done very well. I just kept plugging away and thinking ‘we can do better’ and every year we tried to improve.

“I feel that finally we’re getting there making the playoffs for the first time. We’re finally breaking through.”

Galusha’s brother, Kevin Koe, is a four-time Canadian men’s champion representing Alberta.

Another brother, Jamie Koe, has played in 14 Briers and skipped a Territories team to the playoffs for the first time in 2012.

“I know my brothers have done something for the men’s game up here, so it was really nice for me to do something for the women’s game and put N.W.T. on the map for curling,” Galusha said.

Curling Canada’s team ranking system (CTRS) incorporates a team’s six best results in a season.

Galusha ranks 17th with a 24-13 record, which includes appearances on arena ice in September’s PointsBet Invitational and October’s Grand Slam Tour Challenge.

“We’re hoping those events will help us,” Galusha said. “That’s where you see teams from the north struggle early on at the Scotties and the Brier because we’re not used to playing on arena ice.”

Galusha is in her second season of throwing lead stones and calling shots, which started when her 2021 back injury forced a lineup alteration.

“I’m confident I could throw last rocks again, but we did so well with this lineup with me playing lead last year and Jo-Ann throwing last rocks, we wanted to keep it and build that momentum,” Galusha said.

“I can call the game and not have to worry about last rock, whereas Jo-Ann doesn’t have to worry about calling the game. She just throws. It seems to flow and just work for us.”

The 18-team field for the women’s championship Feb. 17-26 has begun to fill.

Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges, B.C.’s Clancy Grandy, Yukon’s Hailey Birnie and Nunavut’s Brigitte MacPhail have qualified with Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man. back as defending champion.

Provincial women’s finals in Alberta and New Brunswick are Sunday.

Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Northern Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador start their provincial championships next week.

Three wild-card entries will be the CTRS’s top-ranked teams that haven’t already qualified by winning their province or territory.

Galusha is of two minds on how much longer she wants to curl.

“This was supposed to be our last year and everyone says ‘you always say you’re going to quit’ but I really was considering it,” Galusha said.

“It’s really hard to quit when I have such a good team now, but retirement for sure is on the horizon.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2023.

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