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Gates gets that this is a different kind of a Scotties

Many a curler participating at the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary next week is still coming to terms with a competitive lead-in to the event that is so fundamentally dissimilar to anything they have previously experienced.

Making her fifth visit to the Scotties - four times as a player and once as a coach - Northern Ontario lead Amanda Gates, however, is dealing with a change to the fundamental elements that strike at the very heart (pardon the pun) of this particular national curling championship.

"The parts of the Scotties that I love the most, the fans and all of the social aspects of the Scotties, is what has been removed," said Gates, the long-time front-ender with the ultra successful Tracy (Horgan) Fleury rink.

"I have to kind of mentally prepare myself for the fact that I'm not going to get the boost that I get normally, as an extrovert, being in an arena full of people."

The truth is that the NOCA representative quintet (skip Krysta Burns, vice Megan Smith, second Sara Guy, Gates and fifth Kira Brunton) that leaves Wednesday morning for Alberta will be joining no less than 17 other teams at a Canadian bonspiel unlike any other.

One could easily argue that any advantage that might come from having already competed at a Scotties can be tossed right out the window this year.

"This one has been hard because I can't pull from any prior experience," said Gates. "I feel like I'm going for the first time again, in a way."

The absolute embodiment of the eternal optimist, Gates instantly veers off to find the silver lining. "I'm mostly excited for my teammates to get to experience their first Scotties," said the 34 year-old long-time member of the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club.

"I can get to experience a first one, again, because it's their first one. I get to see the awe, the excitement."

Easily one of the most well-equipped athletes in striking healthy balance between the fun in elite level competition, all while not losing her inner competitiveness, Gates again sees the 2021 Scotties as throwing her another curveball.

"Normally, when I am doing the preparation, I would say that I am more focused and driven. I've almost had to switch that, being more laid back, recognizing that it is what it is. There's really not a lot that we can do."

"We've built an ice sheet out on the lake and we've been sliding out there," added Gates. "The lack of training has got me going more with the flow."

This is a landscape that has wreaked havoc to traditional goal setting.

"I think what is most different is defining what success is, what might traditionally have been making championship pool, making top four," said Gates. "We had a team meeting and quickly realized that it's very difficult to pick any outcome goals, just because we really have no idea what that might look like."

"We've created goals that are more about building for the future, especially for the girls I am playing with. If we can keep in mind some perspective, I think at the end of the week, we'll be able to say that it's been a successful week for us - but it's definitely not outcome-based."

For as much as Gates can see a little of herself in a trio of teammates that are more than ten years her junior, the reality is that there are also some significant differences between Team Burns and Team Fleury, at roughly the same age.

"They are along the same path as Team Fleury - they're where we were at, likely even more successful than I was at their age," stated Gates. "But they are also in that time of their lives where they are deep into finishing school or just starting a career."

"In that sense, I don't think we (Team Burns) are as competitive as Team Fleury was when we were right in the thick of it. We were at a different point in her lives, back then. I think that this team is doing the most that we could do, given people's schedule."

"If these girls keep going, they are well ahead and might get even further than we did. I always tell them that going to a Scotties is either going to push them to work harder, or they are going to realize it's not for them."

"I honestly think that they are going to get there (at Scotties) and that a big fire will be lit in them, wanting to get back, which is really exciting for women's curling in northern Ontario," summarized Gates.

In as much as it would be easy to think of the 2021 Scotties as a one of a kind event, given the pandemic et al, the graduate of St Benedict Catholic Secondary School blessed with a naturally maternal outlook towards her youngish teammates emphasized that the same could be said for each and every one of her visits.

"Every Scotties that I have gone to has been played using a different format; none has been the same," emphasized Gates. "The first time (2012), we were Team Ontario and that was huge, to win out of all of Ontario."

"That makes that one special - and it was my first."

"The next time I went (2015), we were the first ever Team Northern Ontario," she continued. "That made that one special, because it's kind of an iconic forever will always be event."

"The last time I went as a player (2018), we had our most successful Scotties. It was our five-man team and we made it work and finished fourth. And last year, I got to coach (Northwest Territories), so they've all been unique."

Though Burns, Smith and Guy will arrive in Calgary as Scotties' first-timers, the true feel of the event may require a return trip. "So much about a Scotties is the other stuff: the Sandra Schmirler Telethon, the meet and greets, the up close and personals, the autograph sessions, so much stuff that is not there this year," said Gates.

More than anything else, to her, that makes 2021 different.

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