November 12, 2019

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Sky is the limit for Team Fleury

'Adjustment' paying off for Ontario native with new top-ranked Manitoba squad

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Skip Tracy Fleury throws a rock in the second end of a match against Team Watling during the 2019 Canad Inns Classic at the Portage Curling Club in Portage la Prairie on Thursday.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Skip Tracy Fleury throws a rock in the second end of a match against Team Watling during the 2019 Canad Inns Classic at the Portage Curling Club in Portage la Prairie on Thursday.

After the 2017-18 curling season, Tracy Fleury thought she’d be taking a break from the game.

She was fresh off of fourth-place finish at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, a career-best finish for Fleury and her Northern Ontario teammates, but it was decided months beforehand that no matter what happened at the event, the team would not be staying together.

"Some players wanted to focus on career and family and all that," Fleury told the Free Press on Friday in Portage la Prairie at the Canad Inns Women’s Classic. "So I thought I might kind of step back, but I was kind of looking, too."

Little did the Sudbury, Ont., native know she would return to the Scotties the following year. Except this time, she’d do it with a new team. Oh, and a new province.

Last year, Fleury joined forces with a trio of Manitobans based out of East St. Paul Curling Club who were on the hunt for a new skip.

At the 2018 Scotties — the same one where Fleury reached the semifinal in her last season with her Northern Ontario squad — third Selena Njegovan, second Liz Fyfe and lead Kristin MacCuish made it to the final with their skip Kerri Einarson. It was an all-Manitoban championship game, with Jennifer Jones coming away with a 9-7 win. Similar to Fleury, the team broke up after the Scotties as Einarson would go on to create a new team comprised of four accomplished skips.

Fleury needed a team and Njegovan, Fyfe and MacCuish needed a skip. Add that up with last year being the beginning of a new Olympic cycle and it ended up being perfect timing for everyone. Despite being out of province, it was too good an opportunity for Fleury to turn down.

"It seemed like a really good fit," Fleury said after beating Saskatoon’s Skylar Ackerman 6-5 at Portage Curling Club Friday morning. "I knew the girls a bit from playing against them on tour for several years. So, I thought personality and skill-wise, it would be a good fit. We came together right from the start and really jelled. It was a good decision."

Indeed it was. Fleury deemed last season a "developmental year" as they were learning how to play together. But if last year was for development, then the sky is the limit for this group who headed into this weekend on top of the Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) standings. Fleury’s group has finished top four in all five events they’ve played in so far this season.

Team Fleury are also the defending provincial champions and they took down an old friend to claim the title. In last year’s Manitoba Scotties final, Fleury defeated Einarson 13-7 at Gimli Recreation Complex to punch their ticket to Nova Scotia for the Canadian Scotties.

"We knew we’d be a contender," Fleury said about the provincials. "But we knew we had to play our best. We did have a couple of really strong events last year, so we knew we could do it. It was just a matter of being consistent for the whole week because the field is so strong in Manitoba. But we thought we could do it."

Those in attendance were less than thrilled to see Team Fleury come away with the win as Einarson, who’s from Gimli, was the hometown favourite.

"It was kind of fun being able to take the crowd out of it a bit," MacCuish said on playing the role of the villain. "I think we were on the opposite side of the draw, so we never got to see them play or hear their crowd cheering for them. We just treated it like any other game. Just go out there and put our hearts on the line."

Einarson’s team is currently second behind Fleury in the CTRS standings. With their history and both teams in the same province, they will likely always be compared to one another. But MacCuish, a Winnipeg native, said it’s not as big a rivalry as it may seem on paper.

"It’s good. We’re all friendly," MacCuish said. "It was a mutual split. Our time kind of came up. But yeah, we’re friendly and it’s all good."

In her first Scotties representing Manitoba, Fleury went 4-3 in round-robin play and missed out on playoffs as they lost to British Columbia’s Sarah Wark in a tiebreaker. It was Fleury’s fourth trip to the Scotties, but she did admit it felt a bit strange to not be wearing Northern Ontario’s green and yellow colours.

"It was an adjustment, but regardless of your province, you still want to go out there and do well," Fleury said. "It was a little bit of an adjustment at first, but then you just forget about it and go play."

Fleury still lives in Sudbury, which forces her to practise alone a lot of the time. She also has to travel by herself to meet her teammates at different events. Sometimes, when everybody has a free weekend, Fleury will travel to Winnipeg to get a weekend of practice in with the team. But next week, Fleury’s team will be coming to her. On Tuesday, they’ll be competing in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling Masters in North Bay, Ont., a 90-minute drive from Sudbury.

"I’m really excited for it," Fleury said. "There’s not that many opportunities to play that close to home, so it’s nice that some friends and family will be able to make the trip to watch, so it will be nice to have their support."

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
Reporter

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

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Updated on Friday, October 18, 2019 at 9:59 PM CDT: Adds photo

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