Pressure ratchets up as Homan drops opener at Roar of the Rings

Team Homan third Emma Miskew talks with skip Rachel Homan during a draw against Team Carey at the 2017 Roar of the Rings Canadian Olympic Curling Trials in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/CP)

OTTAWA — If you think the pressure of playing at home got to Rachel Homan in her team’s opener at curling’s Olympic trials, think again.

"We’re the reigning Canadian champions, the reigning world champions," the 28-year-old Ottawa-born skip said on Saturday afternoon, minutes after her rink lost their first game at the Roar of the Rings.

"This is no different," Homan continued, straight-faced. "There’s pressure no matter where we’re playing."

There is. And after an opening game loss on Saturday in their bid for a first-ever Olympic appearance, the pressure certainly hasn’t lessened any.

In front of the hometown crowd at Canadian Tire Centre, Team Homan dropped an 8-4 decision to Calgary’s Team Carey on Day 1 of a 9-day bonspiel that will determine who represents Canada in South Korea in February.

Team Homan—that’s Homan, third Emma Miskew, second Joanne Courtney and lead Lisa Weagle—now have eight games to go in this round robin before playoffs begin next Saturday. It’s a lot of time to rack up wins, but certainly this wasn’t the start many expected for the local favourites. All but Courtney, who’s from Edmonton, are born and raised in the nation’s capital.

"We struggled a bit with a few shots, a few lines," Homan said. "We’re learning, it was expected, and they played well."

They did. Carey, the 2016 Scotties champion, hit 91 per cent of her shots, compared to Homan’s 76 per cent.

"Chelsea probably played 100 per cent—it’s really hard to beat a skip that plays 100 per cent," said Miskew, the third who’s been playing with Homan since they were kids. "We made a lot of shots, but we also just missed some. Those kind of cost us the game."

The teams were even through four ends, trading points. But in the fifth, Carey stuck two to take the lead, and Homan answered back with just one. From then on, Carey continued to chip away. As Miskew put it, there was no real turning point: "It was kind of just collective."

After blanking the seventh to take the hammer into the eighth with a one-point lead, Carey stuck another two—Homan just missed a double take-out—and then Carey stole another point in the ninth.

"We put some draws in some good spots," said Carey, grinning. "Honestly, we missed a few shots, we got a couple misses out of them but we were able to make the big shot when we needed to, kind of that jump shot in an end that turned it around for us."

She and her team, which includes 48-year-old veteran Cathy Overton-Clapton at third, high-fived on the ice and were all smiles as they walked off the ice. Team Homan, meanwhile, got together for a quick chat on the ice before they walked off while waving to an appreciative crowd.

"We talked about how we could have gotten a few extra inches out there," Miskew said. "We’ve already been able to take some points out of that game. If the ice is the same in the next game we’ll already have a bit of a head start."

They’re also hoping to use the crowd support to their advantage in the coming days. While there were four games going on simultaneously on Saturday, most eyes were on Homan’s team on sheet B. The team got by far the loudest applause when they made a shot, and you could hear cheers like "Come on Rachel!" and "Let’s go Homan!" over the ring of the odd cowbell.

"We haven’t ever played in Ottawa [in a big event], so we’re really happy to be here," Miskew said. She can’t even count how many friends and family they had in the crowd on Saturday: "Everyone’s here," as she put it.

"I think if we can get on a roll the crowd can really get behind us, " the 28-year-old added. "But we have to win a couple before they can really help us out there."

There really can be no doubt those wins are coming for a team that’s in the midst of a dream year, with a couple of Grand Slams wins as well as the Canadian and world title under their belts. As Carey put it, "You know they’re going to be there at the end of the week." That’s when the playoffs begin.

Next up for Homan is fellow Ontario rink, Team Tippin, on Sunday afternoon.

"Someone’s gotta win, someone’s gotta lose," Homan said, before rushing off to sign autographs. "It’s one game, and it’s the first of a long week. We’re excited to be out there, and excited to come back tomorrow."