Skip Tracy Fleury came out of COVID-19 isolation to throw a last-rock takeout to give her Wild Card 1 team from Manitoba an 8-6 win over Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville Thursday to lock up first place in Pool A at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Fleury’s win on the final day of round robin play at the Canadian women’s curling championship improved her team’s record to 7-1. She leapfrogged over Andrea Crawford of New Brunswick who dropped to 6-2 after a 10-3 loss to Chelsea Carey’s Wild Card 2 from Saskatchewan.
Crawford finished second in the pool followed by McCarville (5-3).
In the evening draw, Kerri Einarson’s Team Canada gave up five points in the second end but battled back with four in the fifth and steals of two in the ninth and one more in the 10th for a 10-7 win over Manitoba’s Mackenzie Zacharias. The two-time defending champions from Gimli, Manitoba finished first in Pool B with an 8-0 record, the only undefeated team in the tournament.
“We just clawed back and kept putting pressure on them,” said Einarson. “We got off to a little bit of a slow start but we knew there was lots of game left.”
Zacharias’s loss created a log jam with Manitoba, Christina Black of Nova Scotia and Kerry Galusha of the N.WT. all finishing at 5-3.
Nova Scotia was awarded second place because of their head-to-head record against the other teams. Black will play McCarville of Northern Ontario in one playoff game Friday.
The winner then faces Fleury on Friday evening.
The N.W.T. and Manitoba play a tiebreaker Friday morning with the winner facing Crawford. The winner of that game plays Einarson.
The last playoff appearance for a team representing N.W.T. was Skelly Bildfell’s rink from Whitehorse in 1983. At that time, the Yukon and N.W.T. were represented by one rink.
Fleury was forced to isolate after testing positive for COVID before the tournament. Third Selena Njegovan took over the skipping duties for the team that leads both the Canadian and world rankings.
Fleury admitted to some early rust after not playing for two weeks.
“I was a little worried heading in,” she said. “Once you get the feel of a couple of draws you get your confidence and then it’s a non-issue. It just kind of feels natural.”
Playing in a tight game where she was forced to make shots also helps set her up for the playoffs.
“It’s always good to experience a close game and get some practice with nerves and decision making under pressure,” she said. “It helps it was a tight battle out there.”
A win would have given McCarville first place and a bye in the first round of the playoffs. She had beaten Crawford during the round robin.
“We like to take the hard road,” McCarville laughed after the game. “Obviously we wanted to get first place but we do feel successful. We are in the playoffs and we’re starting our next goal. We just have to keep it rolling form here.”
In a game she had to win to keep her playoff hopes alive Saskatchewan’s Penny Barker was light on a last-rock draw and gave up a steal of three in the sixth end in a 10-2 loss to Emma Miskew’s Wild Card 3.
Miskew, who is skipping Rachel Homan’s rink while Homan competes in mixed doubles at the Beijing Winter Olympics, had been eliminated from playoff contention Wednesday.
In the other afternoon game Susanne Birt of P.E.I. defeated Sarah Hill of Newfoundland and Labrador 8-5.
In other evening games Mary-Anne Arsenault of B.C. defeated Hailey Birnie of the Yukon 11-8.
Fleury topped the Pool A standings at 7-1 followed by New Brunswick 6-2 and Northern Ontario 5-3. Saskatchewan, P.E.I., Wild Card 2 and Wild Card 3 all finished 4-4. Newfoundland and Labrador was 2-6 and Nunavut 0-8.
The final B Pool standings saw Einarson finish 8-0, with Nova Scotia, the N.W.T. and Manitoba 5-3. Ontario was 4-4 followed by Alberta, Quebec and B.C. at 3-5. The Yukon was 0-8.
The field was divided into two nine-team pools with the top three rinks from each pool advancing to an expanded playoff field. The second- and third-ranked teams in each pool crossover to play in Page playoff qualifier games. The winners advance to play the winners of Pool A and Pool B.
The winners of those games go to the Page 1v2 game, while the losers will compete in the Page 3v4 game.
The winner of the Page 1v2 game on Feb. 5 advances directly to the final. The loser plays the winner of the Page 3v4 game in the semifinal.
The winner of the Feb. 6 semifinal advances to that evening’s final.
The Scotties champion will represent Canada at the 2022 Women’s Curling Championship in Prince George, B.C., from March 19-27.
Due to COVID-19 concerns the Scotties are being held in an empty Fort Williams Gardens without fans or media in the building. Curling Canada plans to allow about 348 volunteers registered for the competition and another 37 junior curlers from the area to attend during the playoffs.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2022.
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press