A Sudbury curler has already captured her first bonspiel of the year. Another has just added a very well-known coach to an ultra-successful team, and a brand new quartet from the area has adjusted nicely, showing signs of competitiveness in a pair of events earlier this month.
Yes, one might almost assume that this is the start of another local curling season, just like any other.
It isn't, of course, but at least there is comfort to be found in returning to some sense of the familiar.
While the sight of Kira Brunton joining forces with the Ottawa-based troika of Lauren Mann, Cheryl Kreviazuk and Karen Trines (Sagle) is innovative - Brunton has no previous bonspiel experience with any of her three new teammates - the sight of the talented local rock-thrower hoisting the hardware at the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard is more deja-vu all over again.
For the third straight year, Brunton walked away with bonspiel bragging rights as Team Mann bested Jennifer Jones 7-1 in the final of the showcase that was hosted at the KW Granite Club this year.
The victory followed back to back years of Brunton joining an assortment of talent that included Megan Smith, Sara Guy, Kate Sherry, Lindsay Dubue and Calissa Daly, emerging triumphant in both 2018 and 2019.
The end result is where the similarities to 2020 likely end.
"Honestly, it was really about just getting back out on the ice," said Brunton. "I think the last time I threw rocks was in February. It was the longest off-season ever. I think I was just focusing on not falling."
"We were going in looking to learn more about each other as players and try and have a good time for our first event, with no real expectations."
Team Mann opened with a 9-3 win over Sierra Sutherland, but dropped a tight 7-6 encounter to the Sudbury rink of Abby Deschene, Lauren Rajala, Jessica Leonard and Mya Smith (more on this crew shortly) before reeling off three straight wins in securing a bonspiel payout of $2000.
"I thought we did really well with communicating with one another," said Brunton. "We were really diligent, after the game, talking about things that we wanted to do differently, talking about how we could improve for the next game. We were really building on each game, taking the most out of every opportunity that we have."**************************************************
Those post-game discussions for local skip Tracy Fleury and her Manitoba-based squad that features Selena Njegovan, Liz Fife and Kristin MacCuish will encompass a new voice when the team that made the playoffs in every single event but one in 2019-2020, capturing their first ever Grand Slam crown, hits the ice this year for the first time in competition next month.
A four-time bronze medal winner at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Sherry Middaugh has agreed to climb aboard as coach of Team Fleury this year and beyond, hoping to guide the foursome to some very lofty heights.
"We have the Olympic qualification process next fall," said Fleury this past weekend. "A big goal for us is to try and qualify for the Olympics. We wanted to make sure that we had a coach in place with a lot of experience, one that could help us achieve that goal. We've all played against Sherry for years, and we've always admired her style of play, her leadership skills."
"And she's just a genuinely nice person, as well."
Over the course of the past couple of years, Middaugh has turned her attention, as a curler, solely to her senior women's rink, with she and her team of Karri-Lee Grant, Christine Loube and Jane Hooper-Perroud placing second at nationals in 2019. A more manageable schedule as a player has allowed the 54 year-old native of Saskatchewan more time to spend with coaching.
All in all, Middaugh is viewed as a great fit for Fleury and company.
"We like playing with a lot of rocks in play, and that was always Sherry's style as well - calling a fairly aggressive game," said the local skip, who along with husband Brent welcomed the birth of their first child (Nina) earlier this summer.
"She (Middaugh - not Nina) should be able to bring a lot of insight to our style of play," added Fleury. "It's just nice to have someone watching and noticing things that we might have missed. She can help out with mapping the ice, and any technical weaknesses that she sees. I think she will bring a lot to our team."**************************************************
Starting to come together nicely as a team, as well, is the U21 rink skipped by Abby Deschene, a group that handed Team Mann their only loss in Kitchener. Competing one week earlier, the Curl Sudbury reps opened with three straight losses at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, including one in an extra end, before winning two of their final three games.
Back in action the very next weekend, the team posted a record of 2-2, missing the playoffs on a tie-breaker, but showing progress in the process. "We were hitting the ice together, all four of us, for the very first time after six and a half months of down time," noted Deschene of our brand new lineup.
"It's one thing to learn to play with a new team and adapt to each other, but it's another thing to also have to adapt to the new rules, the new mask policies, just one sweeper on the stone, even just standing in the right spot."
"We started off a little slow, but as we started to play together more, we were able to figure out how to win games."
If adversity can help bring teams together, then the Deschene rink might actually be thankful for a flat tire incurred just south of Barrie, prior to the women even playing their first game of the year together. "I guess you could say that it helped us learn how to problem solve and deal with stressful situations," said Deschene with a laugh.
"I think we carried that over to the ice, especially in games that did not necessarily start well. But we rebounded, it helped our resiliency."
And in a season unlike any other, that is a character trait that could come in quite handy.