“Buffalo hunting” has a new meaning for Chelsea Carey.
The Winnipeg-born Carey grew up dreaming of winning the revered buffalo patch and representing Manitoba at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, something that came to fruition in 2014, but now finds herself facing her former province as skip of Team Alberta.
Making things even more complicated: throwing second stones for Manitoba’s Kerri Einarson is childhood friend Liz Fyfe, whose dad Vic Peters played with Chelsea’s father Dan Carey and won the Brier together in 1992.
It’s all something Carey admitted she hasn’t gotten used to just yet.
"I still catch myself saying Team Manitoba instead of Team Alberta because I haven’t fully adjusted to it," Carey said. "You spend your whole life dreaming of going to the Scotties wearing a certain jacket and now you’re wearing a different one, but wearing any jacket to the Scotties is just so incredible that I’m excited about that.
"It’ll definitely be weird to play against Manitoba because I’ve spent so long coveting that jacket and then finally got to wear it a couple years ago but it should be fun. I know them very well. I grew up with Liz, we spent a ton of time together as kids, so it certainly will be a fun game."
Carey and her Calgary-based crew -- third Amy Nixon, second Jocelyn Peterman, and lead Laine Peters -- represent the home province at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Grande Prairie, Alta., and are among the few familiar faces in the field.
Upsets in provincial playdowns from coast to coast led to an absence of the usual suspects like Nova Scotia's Mary-Anne Arsenault, Ontario's Rachel Homan, and Saskatchewan's Stefanie Lawton (not to mention Alberta's Val Sweeting, who Carey defeated in the provincial final).
Then & Now: Scotties Tournament of Hearts field
|Canada||Rachel Homan||Jennifer Jones|
|Alberta||Val Sweeting||Chelsea Carey|
|B.C.||Patti Knezevic||Karla Thompson|
|Manitoba||Jennifer Jones||Kerri Einarson|
|New Brunswick||Sylvie Robichaud||Sylvie Robichaud|
|Newfoundland & Labrador||Heather Strong||Stacie Curtis|
|Northern Ontario||Tracy Fleury||Krista McCarville|
|Nova Scotia||Mary-Anne Arsenault||Jill Brothers|
|Ontario||Julie Hastings||Jenn Hanna|
|P.E.I.||Suzanne Birt||Suzanne Birt|
|Quebec||Lauren Mann||Marie-France Larouche|
|Saskatchewan||Stefanie Lawton||Jolene Campbell|
|Northwest Territories||Kerry Galusha||Kerry Galusha|
|Yukon||Sarah Koltun||Nicole Baldwin|
"It’s the most wide-open Scotties field I’ve seen in a long time, maybe ever," Carey said. "Certainly with some upsets in provincial finals; like Stef Lawton, you expect her to be there. What it does for us is it’s a little bit more unfamiliar. We’re very familiar with playing Rachel and Val and we know what they’re going to do and what to expect from them.
"It’s going to be an interesting one as far as just not knowing what to expect from opponents because we’re just a little bit more unfamiliar with them but it’ll be a lot of fun with some new faces and trying to figure that stuff out."
Expecting the unexpected will be one thing, but Team Carey will also count on their off-ice help to scout the competition.
"We’re going to rely a little bit on our coach, our fifth and our families for some kind of scouting of teams just so that we have a general idea of what to expect," Carey said. "It doesn’t change a ton, you just go out and play your game and try to make more shots than they do but it’s nice to know are they going to throw a guard first end or are they going to go in if they don’t have the hammer? It’s those kind of little tendencies we’re going to rely on a bit on scouting for but generally it doesn’t change a lot, it’s just a bit of an unfamiliar thing where you go, ‘Ha, I wonder what they’re going to do in this situation?’”
It's been a road to redemption this year for Carey. After claiming the Manitoba crown in 2014, Carey headed west to Edmonton to form a new team with Laura Crocker, Taylor McDonald, and Jen Gates. When they lost to Sweeting in the 2015 Alberta final, Carey parted ways with the squad after just one season together.
Carey wasn't a free agent for long. Two-time Canadian champ Heather Nedohin decided to step back from competitive curling and her teammates Nixon, Peterman and Peters were searching for a new skip. Enter Carey, who admitted it took them a while to finally click together and cited the Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling Canadian Open event this past December in Yorkton, Sask., as a key moment when the consistency fell into place.
"The season’s been a bit of a roller-coaster for us trying to figure it all out. We put in a lot of time not only on the ice but off the ice with some team dynamics stuff and that kind of thing but it took us a while to get there," Carey said. "We felt like in Yorkton we were on the right track and we made the semifinals there and then were able to carry it through. We did a little bit more work on that and were able to carry that through at provincials.
"It took us the better part of the season to get there, but we feel we’re playing our best now and we’re gelling and clicking in the way we need to as far as the chemistry and dynamics go so hopefully we can keep that going at the Scotties."
Even at provincials, Sweeting won two of their meetings including the 1 vs. 2 page playoff where Carey held the hammer in the final end, but her final stone slid through the rings to give up a steal to the three-time Alberta champion. Carey didn't have much time to dwell on the loss, bouncing back the next day taking the semifinal over Jessie Kaufman, and then avenging the two defeats to Sweeting with an 8-5 victory in the final.
"That was huge for us, for sure," Carey said. "I lost the final to her last year and we felt like we played pretty well in the 1-2 game and then I had a shot to win that one and missed it. I kind of wanted to get back and have another shot to win and luckily we were able to make it happen this time."
Now representing the home province at the Scotties, Carey believes there's a mix of incentive to do well and pressure that comes into play.
"When I was with my old team and the [2013 Canadian Olympic] Trials were in Winnipeg and it was in our home city, that was probably the most amazing experience I’ve ever had in my life. It was so cool to have the crowd support behind me and all that kind of stuff so I think it’s more exciting than anything else but certainly there’s an element of added pressure there," she said. "Just one thing to do well for not only yourself but the province and the crest on your back.
"That’s added no matter what but doing it at home is certainly going to be pretty special but also a little bit of extra tension and pressure. We feel pretty prepared. Amy and Laine both have played in a number of Scotties in their home province, it kind of seems to be their thing, so they’re used to that and they can help Jocelyn and I a little bit with what to expect and how it’s going to go."
Carey kicks off the main round-robin draw of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts Saturday against reigning champ Jennifer Jones (Team Canada) with her match-up against Manitoba set for Wednesday. The winner of the Scotties will represent Canada at the world championship next month in Swift Current, Sask.