Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

Team Yukon wrapped up their eighth and final game at the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Thursday afternoon.

“It was amazing, we learned a ton,” said skip Laura Eby.

Yukon’s roster was Eby, Laura Williamson, Tamar Vandenberghe, Lorna Spenner and alternate Darlene Gammel.

The team finished with a 0-8 record in Pool A of the national championship, but played close ends and improved throughout the week, Eby said.

“It’s unfortunate we didn’t pick up our game at the beginning of the week — I think we could have got some wins,” she said.

“When we implemented what we learned, we started to play much better, and actually started to come back and were very close to winning a game.”

Eby’s first four games were played against two Manitoba wild card teams — Beth Peterson and Mackenzie Zacharias — as well as Nova Scotia’s Jill Brothers and former Olympian and three-time Canadian champion Rachel Homan from Ontario.

“We had a few ends that were blowouts, and the reality is everybody curled pretty good, but we’re playing against full-time curlers that play and that is their job,” Eby said.

In the second half of the week, Eby said they began implementing a more defensive strategy, hitting more rocks out of the house and keeping things clean.

“We learned to hit everything, to save ourselves from getting those big five-enders or four-enders against us, because that’s what really killed us in the end,” she said.

“As soon as we kept things clean, and just kept hitting, their scores started to drop down and ours started to come up.”

In the last half of the tournament, Eby played close games against Krysta Burns, representing Northern Ontario, and defending Canadian champion Kerri Einarson. They lost those games 7-8 and 7-11, respectively. They also played Kerry Galusha of the Northwest Territories and Laura Walker of Alberta.

It was the first time at the Scotties for the foursome, who have been playing together for several years.

“We just tried to pretend that we were back home, just playing a regular game,” Eby said.

“Of course, lots of things trigger the pressure. You walk onto the ice with Homan or Walker, and you’ve got to put that aside, and not focus on it, and just focus on the game.”

The team worked to fight nerves in the first half of the week, she said.

“We shook it off, and the team itself held together really well. We had lots of giggles and had lots of fun.”

Eby has been playing with Williamson for about nine years, Vandenberghe for five years and Spenner for two years. She said the team’s familiarity made a big difference on the ice.

Team Yukon also had more ice time under their belts than many other teams, because COVID-19 restrictions closed curling clubs across Canada for most of the season. Several teams attending the Scotties this year stepped onto the national stage this week to play their first competitive game in a year.

“Some teams had their moments that they probably wouldn’t have had, had they been playing on a regular basis. But, you know, they got back on the ice and they were just as good as they were last season,” Eby said.

The Scotties kicked off with round-robin play on Feb. 19, and played a gruelling schedule of eight games in less than a week.

Playing in the Scotties during a pandemic created a very different experience, as well. With no fans in the stands, Eby said the stadium was much quieter than it would usually be.

The pandemic restrictions also meant teams were required to take four COVID-19 tests during the tournament — one before arriving, one upon arrival and two more after the tournament began.

“Thankfully, every single person here was negative on every set of tests, so that was amazing,” Eby said.

“Everybody followed the protocols, and we were able to get through it.”

The Scotties is the first of three tournaments set to take place in the Calgary curling bubble. The men’s national championship will begin on March 6 and mixed doubles nationals will begin on March 18.

Curating a national curling event during a pandemic is new territory for Curling Canada, and Eby said the isolation rules for curlers shifted a bit as the week went forward.

“This was the guinea pig, so they learned a lot as well,” Eby said.

“As we went through the week, at the beginning we were getting four, five or six emails a day with changes to the protocols. But now they’ve figured that all out.”

Curlers were only allowed to share space during games and pre-game meetings. The rest of the time was spent in isolation, in separate hotel rooms. There also wasn’t the usual roster of events and social activities outside of game time.

Eby said her team received unwavering support from the Yukon during the week.

“The support from friends and family has been amazing. When we have a tough time, they’re right with us, telling us, ‘You got the next one,’ which is nice,” Eby said.

“We didn’t come with any great expectations, we came for the experience and all the little things counted — especially when we stole points (from big teams).”

Round-robin play ended on Feb. 25 with Saskatchewan’s Sherry Anderson, Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones and Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges tied at six wins and two losses in Pool B. Ontario’s Homan and Team Canada’s Einarson tied with seven wins and two losses in Pool A, with wild card team Peterson and Alberta’s Walker tied for third place with five wins and three losses. The top six teams will continue to the championship round this weekend.

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com

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