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A candid conversation with Tracy Fleury - and a near impossible double for local juniors
2022-04-02
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Had the news been released one week later, some might have dismissed the recent blockbuster announcement of Tracy Fleury teaming up with Rachel Homan as nothing more than an April Fool’s joke.

Nope – this is most definitely real, just the latest shoe to drop in what has been an intriguing few weeks for the long-time ultra friendly Sudbury skip.

Coming literally within an end or two of representing Canada at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Team Fleury first grabbed headlines in mid-March, confirming the quartet would not return intact for 2022-2023, with Selena Njegovan (vice) and Kristin MacCuish (lead) both joining the Kaitlyn Lawes rink just days later.

Given that the Fleury juggernaut had progressed to the point of holding down the #1 slot in the world this winter, that break-up surprised some – albeit not the graduate of Lockerby Composite School.

“I saw it coming and in that sense, I wasn’t surprised,” noted Fleury in a very candid interview earlier this week. “At the same time, I was a little surprised just given the amount of success that we have enjoyed together, especially this past season. We had found a lot of consistency.”

“From that perspective, it was a little bit surprising.”

“We decided to go separate ways; a couple of the players on our team got a really good opportunity,” Fleury added. “It’s sad, because we did have a lot of success together, for sure, and there’s a little bit of unfinished business, I would say, some things that we could have achieved together.”

In terms of jaw-dropping news, however, that was still to come.

Few, even in the tight-knit community that is elite curling, necessarily saw Fleury signing on with Homan, a former World Champion (2017), two-time Olympian (2018 – Pyeongchang; 2022 Mixed Doubles with John Morris) and three-time Scotties Tournament of Hearts winner (2013, 2014, 2017). Even the northern girl right in the middle of it all was caught a little off guard.

“I was definitely surprised when Rachel called,” suggested Fleury. “I think I had just assumed that it was a lead that they would be looking for since it was their lead (Joanne Courtney) who had stepped away. From talking to Rachel, it seemed that they were open to different conversations for their team.”

In fact, at this point in time, other than the fact that Homan and Fleury are going to form the skip/vice-skip tandem in some way, shape or form, with Emma Miskew and Sarah Wilkes tackling front-end duties, little else is necessarily cast in stone.

“It’s a great time in the (Olympic) cycle to try out some new things,” said Fleury. “We all want to be open-minded and find out what works the best, whatever the combination might be. It’s really hard to say right now where we’re going to land.”

In fact, some out of the box thinking has already been part of the discussion, it would seem.

“We can do some combinations, where one of us (Homan or Fleury) calls the game and the other throws last rock,” added Fleury. “There’s some experimenting that can be done where maybe we share roles as well.”

What is known, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that the re-jigged Team Homan will enter play in the fall as a team to watch, carrying expectations that are hardly oblivious to the 35 year-old Sudbury native, who is as well known for her near-permanent smile as Homan is known for her on-ice intensity.

“There’s just a lot of talent on this team, a lot of good shooters,” said Fleury. “It’s exciting to be presented with an opportunity to do something a little bit different with a team that already has so much skill and talent.”

As a sport, curling has been near the top of the Canadian sporting scene news cycle pretty much since the 2022 Games in Beijing ended, with the shuffling within the rosters of countless top end teams now occurring at unprecedented levels.

“I think the curlers just kind of understand that this is the way that it needs to be done,” said Fleury, alluding to the reality that many of the conversations that ultimately lead to athletes jumping ship often occur while they are still very much active members of the rink they are about to divorce.

“With the Olympics, a lot of teams are formed every four years for the quadrennial. People don’t want to miss out on new opportunities; so unfortunately, a lot of the team forming does tend to happen before the end of the year.”

A new opportunity is exactly what the Curl Sudbury trio of Jamie Smith, Lauren Rajala and Katie Shaw were looking for this past week, when you consider what they have accomplished this year with skips Isabelle Ladouceur and Katy Lukowich.

Back in November in Saskatoon, the junior curling troika, along with Ladouceur, a native of New Brunswick who now lives in Sudbury, captured the World Junior qualifiers, an event that not only closely mimicked the Canadian Junior Curling Championships, but also effectively earned Team Ladouceur a trip to the World Junior Championships in Sweden in May.

This past week in Stratford, the Smith/Rajala/Shaw combo, with Lukowich now throwing last rock, put themselves in great position to earn the right to represent the country for a second straight year, come the spring of 2023, looking to capture the 2022 New Holland Canadian U-21 Curling Championships.

Team Northern Ontario could not have asked for a much better round robin performance, showing the way in Pool A with a 7-1 record, an extra-end 10-9 loss to Alberta #1 (Serena Gray-Withers) their only blemish through to the semi-finals on Friday.

Along the way, the Lukowich rink bested Manitoba #1 (8-4), Prince Edward Island (9-6), Quebec #2 (12-4), the Northwest Territories (12-3), Nova Scotia #2 (9-3), Newfoundland & Labrador (7-6) and New Brunswick (7-5).

Unfortunately, the magical run would come to a hard halt on Friday, the locals doubled 10-5 by Ontario #1 (Emily Deschenes) in the semis and then drubbed 13-5 by Alberta #2 (Claire Booth) in the bronze medal affair.

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