CALGARY — The last time the Scotties Tournament of Hearts took place in Calgary, the curlers could hear toilets flushing as they swept their rocks down the ice due to the lack of spectators.
COVID-19 restrictions forced the 2021 Canadian women’s curling championship to take place in a bubble at the WinSport Event Centre, with Canadians watching from their couches at home.
Curling Canada expects the stands to be packed in 2024 when the event returns to the venue.
“I remember the adrenalin rush of making a great shot and the fans are all exploding, and your team is riding high,” Amy Nixon, a two-time Scotties champion, said Wednesday at a Curling Canada news conference to announce Calgary as the successful bidder. “In 2024, it will be totally different than the cardboard cut-outs that were here in the stands in 2021.
“They were a nice touch under the circumstances, but the athletes are going to love this.”
In 2021, Calgary hosted the Canadian men's, women's and mixed doubles championships, two Grand Slam events and the men's and women's world championships.
All the events took place in the “bubble” under strict pandemic protocols with a distinct lack of atmosphere.
“We are thrilled to bring the Scotties back to Calgary and put on a proper show with fans,” said Katherine Henderson, chief executive officer of Curling Canada.
On Tuesday, Curling Canada awarded Regina the 2024 Brier, which will take place at the Brandt Centre.
In the coming years, the Brier, the Scotties and the mixed doubles national championships will come under intense scrutiny as Canada strives to regain its status as an international curling powerhouse.
At the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Team Brad Gushue won the only curling medal for Canada with a bronze in the men’s event. John Morris and Rachel Homan missed the playoffs in mixed doubles. as did Team Jennifer Jones in the women’s competition.
At the 2022 world men’s curling championships, Sweden’s Niklas Edin defeated Gushue in the final to claim gold.
Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni won the world women’s title earlier this year and Scotland’s Eve Muirhead captured the world mixed doubles title.
“Curling is played at a much higher level all over the world now compared to when I played,” said Shannon Kleibriink, who won Olympic bronze with Nixon at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. “It’s not even close.”
Prior to the 2021 bubble, Calgary hosted the Canadian women’s curling championships in 1995 and 1970.
Tourism Calgary expects the 2024 event to generate an economic impact of $6 million for the city at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
“Many of the small businesses that make up the visitor economy were the hardest hit during the pandemic,” said Carson Ackroyd, senior vice-president of sales for Tourism Calgary. “There’s a long way to go to support many of these businesses getting back on their feet."
Alberta teams have won the Canadian women’s championship on eight occasions, behind only Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Team Canada, with 11 apiece.
Kleibrink and Nixon will serve as co-chairs for the 2024 Scotties.
“If you are a female curler in Canada, you grow up dreaming of playing in the Scotties,” said Nixon, who won the 2016 Canadian title as vice-skip for Chelsea Carey and competed in six Canadian championships. “It means so much.
“This venue at WinSport is awesome. The stands are going to be packed in 2024, and the fans are going to be rocking. And that’s what you need as an athlete — to really just live in the moment and enjoy the energy.”
The 2023 Scotties Tournament of Hearts will take place in Kamloops, B.C. from Feb 17 to 26 at the Sandman Centre.
Kerri Einarson, of Gimli, Man., will skip Team Canada and go for a fourth consecutive Scotties title, which would tie the record set by Colleen Jones (2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004.)
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.
Vicki Hall, The Canadian Press