Calgary's curling bubble will be bursting with Manitoba moxie as the hotly anticipated Scotties Tournament of Hearts begins Friday evening.

Calgary's curling bubble will be bursting with Manitoba moxie as the hotly anticipated Scotties Tournament of Hearts begins Friday evening.

An unparalleled five teams from these parts will participate in the 18-team Scotties — undoubtedly, the most unorthodox Canadian women's curling championship, past, present or future — staged inside spectator-free Markin MacPhail Centre at Canada Olympic Park.

Kerri Einarson's Gimli squad finally gets the chance to wear Team Canada colours, returning to the Scotties as defending champion and top seed. Einarson is backed by third Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard, lead Briane Meilleur and fifth Krysten Karwacki, with Heather Nedohin aboard as coach.

Six-time Scotties champion and Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg will represent Manitoba at the 10-day championship. As well, all three wild-card entries hail from our province: Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul, to be skipped by former Winnipegger Chelsea Carey (Wild Card No. 1), reigning world junior champion Mackenzie Zacharias of Altona (Wild Card No. 2), and Beth Peterson of Winnipeg (Wild Card No. 3).

Manitoba skip Kerri Einarson, third Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur pose with the trophy after defeating Ontario to win the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask.

JONATHAN HAYWARD / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Manitoba skip Kerri Einarson, third Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur pose with the trophy after defeating Ontario to win the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask.

Strict protocols will be in place in prevent the insidious COVID-19 virus from slipping into the building — a massive effort to keep competitors and officials safe.

The Scotties field:

(listed according to seeding, and in order of skip, third, second, lead, alternate, coach/consultant)

POOL A

1. Team Canada — Kerri Einarson (Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Meilleur, Krysten Karwacki, Heather Nedohin; Gimli)

(listed according to seeding, and in order of skip, third, second, lead, alternate, coach/consultant)

POOL A

1. Team Canada — Kerri Einarson (Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Meilleur, Krysten Karwacki, Heather Nedohin; Gimli)

4. Ontario — Rachel Homan (Emma Miskew, Sarah Wilkes, Joanne Courtney, Danielle Inglis, Randy Ferbey; Ottawa)

5. Alberta — Laura Walker (Kate Cameron, Taylor McDonald, Nadine Scotland, Shannon Pynn; Edmonton)

8. Wild Card No. 2 — Mackenzie Zacharias (Karlee Burgess, Emily Zacharias, Lauren Lenentine, Rachel Erickson, Sheldon Zacharias; Altona)

9. Wild Card No. 3 — Beth Peterson (Jenna Loder, Katherine Doerksen, Melissa Gordon, Cathy Overton-Clapham; Assiniboine Memorial, Winnipeg)

12. Northwest Territories — Kerry Galusha (Jo-Ann Rizzo, Margot Flemming, Shona Barbour, Jim Waite; Yellowknife)

13. Nova Scotia — Jill Brothers (Erin Carmody, Jennifer Brine, Emma Logan, Kim Kelly, Daryell Nowlan; Halifax)

16. Northern Ontario — Krysta Burns (Megan Smith, Sara Guy, Amanda Gates, Kira Brunton, Rodney Guy; Sudbury)

17. Yukon — Laura Eby (Lorna Spenner, Tamar Vandenberghe, Laura Williamson, Darlene Gammel, Scott Williamson; Whitehorse)

POOL B

2. Wild Card No. 1 — Tracy Fleury (Chelsea Carey to skip; Selena Njegovan, Liz Fyfe, Kristin MacCuish, Clancy Grandy, Sherry Middaugh; East St. Paul)

3. Manitoba — Jennifer Jones (Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman, Lisa Weagle, Raunora Westcott, Viktor Kjell; St Vital, Winnipeg)

6. British Columbia — Corryn Brown (Erin Pincott, Dez Hawes, Samantha Fisher, Stephanie Jackson-Baier, Allison MacInnes; Kamloops)

7. Prince Edward Island — Suzanne Birt (Marie Christianson, Meaghan Hughes, Michelle McQuaid, Kathy O’Rourke, Mitch O’Shea; Montague)

10. Saskatchewan — Sherry Anderson (Nancy Martin, Chaelynn Kitz, Breanne Knapp, Amber Holland, Shane Kitz; Saskatoon)

11. Quebec — Laurie St-Georges (Hailey Armstrong, Emily Riley, Cynthia St-Georges, Florence Boivin, Michel St-Georges; Laval)

14. New Brunswick — Melissa Adams (Jaclyn Tingley, Nicole Bishop, Kendra Lister, Monique Massé; Fredericton)

15. Nunavut — Lori Eddy (Sadie Pinksen, Alison Griffin, Kaitlin MacDonald, Donalda Mattie; Iqaluit)

18. Newfoundland/Labrador — Sarah Hill (Beth Hamilton, Lauren Barron, Adrienne Mercer, Brooke Godsland; St. John’s)

Einarson's hopes for a world title were dashed when the women’s worlds — scheduled for Prince George, B.C., last March — were called off with just couple of days' notice. Since then, with a hectic 2020-21 bonspiel season scrapped owing to the pandemic, they enjoyed none of the usual cachet that comes with owning a Canadian crown.

"We got ripped off a bit, I would say. We never got to really embrace being Team Canada and all of the opportunities that come with it. That was unfortunate for us," said Einarson, speaking earlier this week. "This is our chance to finally wear those jackets. Going into the Scotties as Team Canada, it's going to feel so surreal."

The dream team of former skips defeated Ontario's Rachel Homan 8-7 in an extra end in Moose Jaw, Sask., nearly 52 weeks ago. Einarson botched a last-rock draw in the 10th to seal a win but made good on a second chance in the 11th.

The ability to dig deep and deliver under intense pressure should serve the team well.

It's a sweet 16th Scotties championship for Jennifer Jones.

GEOFF ROBINS / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

It's a sweet 16th Scotties championship for Jennifer Jones.

"We were lucky to have another chance. I still re-live that, because one day I'll have to make that kind of shot again. It's something that will stick with me forever, and I'll keep it in my back pocket," she said. "Not bringing any negativity in your thoughts, that's important. That was the key. Just going through the routine and staying positive."

Curlers were required to quarantine for three days at home and be tested before heading to Calgary.

Einarson and three teammates received the 'brain-tickler' nasal-swab test early Tuesday morning in Winnipeg, and, after negative results were confirmed, hit the highway for the long drive west.

Curlers were tested again upon their arrival and then were sequestered in their own hotel rooms until team practice sessions Thursday afternoon.

More tests will be conducted next week as the round robin continues.

Kerri Einarson and her Gimli squad finally gets the chance to wear Team Canada colours.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / FREE PRESS FILES

Kerri Einarson and her Gimli squad finally gets the chance to wear Team Canada colours.

The athletes must wear masks outside hotel rooms until they set foot on the playing area. Teams are prohibited from dining outside their hotel rooms. They'll use rental vehicles to go back and forth between the hotel and rink, which are basically just across the street from one another.

Team Canada plays the Zacharias team (Wild Card No. 2) on the opening draw Friday at 7:30 p.m. (CT).

"There's always some nerves going into the Scotties but it's good nerves, excited nerves," Einarson said. "This will be a much different type of atmosphere out there but we're definitely going to embrace it the time being out there together."

While the 2021 women's worlds, originally slated for Switzerland, have already been cancelled, there's still plenty on the line for the team the Scotties survivor.

The champion qualify for the Olympic Trials, set for November in Saskatoon, books a spot at the 2022 Scotties in Thunder Bay and pockets a first-place cheque for $100,000.

Chelsea Carey will hook up with third Selena Njegovan, second Liz Fyfe, and Kristin MacCuish.

JONATHAN HAYWARD / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Chelsea Carey will hook up with third Selena Njegovan, second Liz Fyfe, and Kristin MacCuish.

Jones, now living near Barrie, Ont., is used to having family in the stands cheering her on, including her husband, Brent Laing, and the couple's two young daughters, Isabella and Skyla. But she won't have their company to provide a bit of a mental break during any down time during the 10-day championship.

On-ice competition will be just about the only thing that will feel normal for Scotties returnees such as the Einarson, Jones and Fleury crews.

"We're just super excited. It's obviously been challenging throughout the world, really serious things happening. We haven't had a normal curling season without any opportunities to play, so I think we're feeling really fortunate and privileged to have the chance to compete," said Jones, skip of Team Manitoba.

"People always ask me about the longevity of me playing. I just love to curl. That's always been the motivation for me. I always knew that but then it was taken away, and it really confirms that I just love being around my teammates competing."

It's a sweet 16th Scotties championship for Jones, who is flanked by third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jocelyn Peterman, lead Lisa Weagle, fifth Raunora Westcott and coach Viktor Kjell. Longtime lead Dawn McEwen is pregnant and has opted to remain home.

Mackenzie Zacharias will play Team Canada on the opening draw Friday.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES

Mackenzie Zacharias will play Team Canada on the opening draw Friday.

Remarkably, Jones is tied with former teammate Jill Officer of Winnipeg along with Colleen Jones of Nova Scotia for most national titles (six).

"That's truly hard to wrap my head around. When I first started out, I just wanted to get to one. And then we got to go to Brandon (2002 Scotties) and I just thought, 'It's all good. I've gotten to experience this.' To say 16? It's crazy," she said.

Jones hits the ice Saturday at 9:30 a.m. against Quebec's Laurie St. Georges.

Meanwhile, Fleury's team settles in as the second seed. The Sudbury, Ont., skip will forgo the event to care for her seven-month-old daughter, Nina, who has a medical condition.

Carey hooks up with third Selena Njegovan, second Liz Fyfe, Kristin MacCuish, all Winnipeggers, fifth Clancy Grandy and coach Sherry Middaugh for the temporary assignment. The two-time Canadian champion (2016, 2019) has been throwing rocks for about a week — a luxury the majority of competitors in Calgary haven't had — and she's been in constant communication with the group.

Beth Peterson and her team received the Wild Card No. 3 spot.

TIM SMITH / BRANDON SUN FILES

Beth Peterson and her team received the Wild Card No. 3 spot.

"That's been nice to rediscover what curling feelings like," Carey said. "Even though I'm new to the team, I don't really feel like we're behind anyone else. The upsides are endless. The girls are obviously good curlers but they're good people and it's been a lot of fun chatting with them and figuring things out as we go.

ROUND-ROBIN DRAW

Friday, Feb. 19

7:30 p.m.
NO vs NT
YT vs WC3
AB vs NS
CA vs WC2

Friday, Feb. 19

7:30 p.m.
NO vs NT
YT vs WC3
AB vs NS
CA vs WC2

Saturday, Feb. 20

9:30 a.m.
NL vs NB
MB vs QC
NU vs WC1
PE vs SK

2:30 p.m.
YT vs NS
AB vs WC2
NT vs CA
WC3 vs ON

7:30 p.m.
MB vs WC1
NU vs SK
NB vs PE
QC vs BC

Sunday, Feb. 21

9 a.m.
CA vs WC3
NS vs NT
YT vs ON
NO vs AB

2 p.m.
PE vs QC
WC1 vs NB
MB vs BC
NL vs NU

7:30 p.m.
ON vs AB
CA vs NO
NS vs WC3
WC2 vs YT

Monday, Feb. 22

2:30 p.m.
BC vs NU
PE vs NL
WC1 vs QC
SK vs MB

7:30 p.m.
NT vs WC2
WC3 vs AB
NO vs YT
ON vs NS

Tuesday, Feb. 23

9:30 a.m.
NB vs SK
QC vs NU
NL vs MB
BC vs WC1

2:30 p.m.
NS vs CA
NO vs ON
WC3 vs WC2
AB vs NT

7:30 p.m.
WC1 vs PE
NL vs BC
QC vs SK
NU vs NB

Wednesday, Feb. 24

9:30 a.m.
WC3 vs NO
WC2 vs NS
ON vs NT
YT vs CA

2:30 p.m.
QC vs NL
SK vs WC1
BC vs NB
MB vs PE

7:30 p.m.
WC2 vs ON
NT vs YT
CA vs AB
NS vs NO

Thursday, Feb. 25

9:30 a.m.
SK vs BC
NB vs MB
PE vs NU
WC1 vs NL

2:30 p.m.
AB vs YT
ON vs CA
WC2 vs NO
NT vs WC3

7:30 p.m.
NU vs MB
BC vs PE
SK vs NL
NB vs QC

CHAMPIONSHIP POOL

(Top four in each pool compete)

Friday, Feb. 26
9 a.m. tiebreaker (if necessary)
Draws at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 27
Draws at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

PLAYOFFS
Sunday, Feb. 28
9 a.m. tiebreakers (if necessary)

SEMIFINAL
1:30 p.m. 3rd vs 2nd

FINAL
7:30 p.m. 1st vs SF winner

"We've all watched game tape of each other, so I think it will be fairly seamless as far as the adjustment from a strategy standpoint and a team standpoint."

Continuing on with the Fleury name, the team faces Lori Eddy of Nunavut on Saturday morning.

The teams in Calgary have been separated into two pools of nine, and seeded based on their final standing in the 2019-20 Canadian Team Ranking System.

They will play a full round robin within their respective pools, and then the top four teams in each advance to the Championship Pool, retain their records and cross over and play the four teams from the opposite pool.

The four-team Page playoff system has been dropped in favour of a three-team playoff. The first-place team after the Championship Pool goes straight to the gold-medal game (Sunday, Feb. 28, 7:30 p.m.), while the second- and third-place teams meet in the semifinal (Sunday, Feb. 28, 1:30 p.m.)

BELL’S PICKS

Championship pool qualifiers

Championship pool qualifiers

Pool A
Einarson – Team Canada
Homan – Ontario
Walker – Alberta
Zacharias –Wild-Card No. 2

Pool B
Jones – Manitoba
Fleury – Wild-Card No. 1
Birt – P.E.I.
Brown – B.C.

Playoffs
Einarson
Homan
Jones

Champion - Einarson

The Scotties leads off a half-dozen events inside the bubble, including the Brier Canadian men's championship (March 5-14), national mixed doubles championship (March 18-26), world men's championship (April 2-11) and a pair of Grand Slam of Curling events.

 

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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