Tracy Fleury has accomplished much over the course of her illustrious curling career. Now you can add “win a Grand Slam event” to her impressive resumé.
With no lack of northern Ontario supporters on hand, Fleury and her Manitoba rink of Selena Njegovan, Liz Fyfe and Kristin MacCuish completed a magical run at the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling Masters in North Bay last weekend, defeating Sayaka Yoshimura of Japan 7-5 in the final.
Defending provincial champions and Manitoba representatives at the 2019 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Team Fleury was on the mark, right from the start, jumping out to a 4-0 lead over Elena Stern of Switzerland after three ends in game one, and earning their first of three victories by the identical score of 7-5.
The crowd favourites would suffer their only loss in the eighth draw, dropping a 5-4 extra end decision to Yoshimura, unable to sustain a 3-1 lead they \ had built up after five ends of play. Still in good shape, Fleury and company stormed back to bounce Chelsea Carey from Alberta 8-3, vaulting to a 6-0 lead after four, surrendering three in the fifth but getting most of that back with a deuce in the sixth.
More drama in the 13th draw, but this time in favour of the Fleury quartet as they downed Rachel Homan and her Ottawa rink 5-4, also in an extra end. Their 3-1 record left the entry with a local flavour deadlocked for third place with both Yoshimura and Jennifer Jones, with Silvana Tirinzoni (SUI) and Anna Hasselborg (SWE) showing the way at 4-0.
A quick start in the quarter-final made all of the difference as Fleury counted four in the first, cruising to an 8-3 win over Stern, before eliminating Hasselborg in the semis, 7-5, thanks to a 2-2-1 run between the fifth and seventh ends.
“We definitely knew that we would be a contender,” said Fleury this week. “We were a runner-up at a Slam event last year, in our first season together, and we’re having a really strong start to this season. This was our fourth final already this year. We’ve had a lot of experience playing in those games.”
Having donned the northern Ontario colours for many a junior national championship, as well as a pair of Scotties (the Fleury/Horgan Idylwylde rink also represented Ontario one year at Scotties), the pride of Sudbury found herself with many a fan in North Bay. “I think it was a bit different, just in terms of having that crowd support and knowing that you have lots of friends and family in the stands,” she said.
“It kind of motivates you, pumps you up a little bit more. The crowd in North Bay was unbelievable. There was a lot of really positive energy, so it was felt by our entire team, I would say.”
While the primary goal is always a national title and trip to the Worlds, Fleury noted that there are some clear-cut benefits to this bonspiel win, beyond just the prize purse. “The Slams are great practice for provincials, and we’re getting a lot of good games in against some of the teams that we will play at provincials,” she said.
“It’s just such a confidence boost. Should we not be successful at provincials this year, we’re hoping to put ourselves in position for the wildcard play-in game at the Scotties. Winning big events like a Slam helps our rankings. We get some points, which helps our chances of getting into that wildcard game.”******************************************************************************
In the back of her mind, Amanda Corkal had always dreamed of going to Scotties. Born in Saskatchewan but having spent the bulk of her life in Sudbury (save obtaining her Bachelor of Management in Organizational Studies business degree at Western University in London), the 34 year old accountant never would see the stars align just right.
“Unfortunately, because I was changing around teams and everything, I never really got the chance to be really competitive and hard-core with one team, which is what you need these days,” she said. “And when I got back from university, it was work and all those things that kind of took priority.”
Which is precisely why the opportunity to represent Northern Ontario next week at the Canadian Mixed Curling Championships in Saguenay (PQ) will mean so much to her. “It’s my first time to nationals, it’s pretty cool,” she said, with just a tinge of emotion in her voice. “When you’ve been trying so hard to do it, to win your first heart is so cool.”
In the end, it was an unlikely gathering that would make it all happen.
Corkal was the lead to a rink that also included Sandy MacEwan (skip), Laura Johnston (vice) and Gavan Jamieson (second), a crew that had never played together before and survived a grueling nine game schedule at provincials before upsetting a foursome which featured Fleury, sister Jennifer Wylie and brothers Tanner and Jacob Horgan.
While her curling career has been somewhat intermittent since returning to Sudbury following her university graduation, Corkal and Jamieson had developed a bit of consistency in attending the northern mixed playdowns. Introduced through a curling friend to the native of North Bay (both Jamieson and Johnston are from North Bay, with this team actually curling out of the Granite Club in the Gateway City), Corkal has enjoyed their curling partnership.
“Gavan is a good time, just in general,” she said with a laugh. “He’s such a fun person to be around. He’s usually the life of every party. He’s friends with everyone and he’s a really great teammate. You wouldn’t not want to play with him.”
In fact, as a team, this crew is not likely to get all that flustered, a trait that certainly helped in earning their trip to nationals. “I think that we didn’t get too upset about losing, we just kind of let it roll off our backs,” said Corkal.
“Losses happen. We knew that we were good curlers. Our whole team is even keel.”
It is a solid grounding which the team is likely to need, given that they will leave on Saturday without having played a single game together since the provincials last March, with only a few scattered practices here and there this fall, with ice opened in most venues in these parts for only a few weeks now.
“It seemed to work for us last time, so we’re not too worried about it,” said Corkal. “We practiced a couple of times before we went last time and it turned out. We are all good curlers, we’ve all curled competitively, we all have experience. We just have to lean on that.”
Northern Ontario opens play on Sunday evening against New Brunswick (Grant Odishaw), facing British Columbia (Cameron de Jong) the next night before enduring their first two-game day on Tuesday with matchups against Manitoba (Corey Chambers) and Quebec (Jean-Sébastien Roy).