Team Homan caps storybook 2017 season with Olympic berth

OTTAWA — Rachel Homan fried eggs for her teammates on Sunday morning, she kept them laughing in the afternoon just before they stepped onto the ice for the biggest game of their careers — she’s the jokester in the group, the one with the dry sense of humour — and then the 28-year-old skip hit the nail on the head a few minutes after it was all over.

Wearing a gold medal and a Team Canada jacket and a smile, Homan said: “We couldn’t have written a better story.”

No, she and Emma Miskew and Joanne Courtney and Lisa Weagle really couldn’t have.

And was this Olympic trials final ever a game, full of tension and emotion, down to the last rock. Fifteen minutes or so after Team Homan of Ottawa had clinched that Olympic berth in front of a hometown crowd at Canadian Tire Centre, Courtney was still trying to catch her breath, but she was crying too much to do that. The tears started as soon as she saw Calgary skip Chelsea Carey come up just short on a tough double takeout and stick in the 10th end, meaning this one ended 6-5 and wasn’t going to an 11th.

“This has been an unforgettable week,” Courtney said, smiling and crying and trying to breathe, all at once. “I should stop crying in the next week or so.”

Third Emma Miskew, who curled at a ridiculous 98 per cent efficiency in the Roar of the Rings final, says it was “shock and happiness” when she saw that last rock stop, when the 7,490 people here went bananas. Just after Carey’s attempt to steal two came up short in the 10th, Homan dropped her jaw and her broom. Miskew started crying, and the two who’ve been teammates since age 11 threw open their arms and hugged.

“It keeps sinking in every few minutes, but that explains the tears,” Miskew said, after her best game of this nine-day tournament. “It’s surreal right now. It was just such a battle, they played amazing and we really had to stick with it. We tried to not think about the end goal for the whole game, but at the end it was just utter joy.”

She added, later: “We’re Olympians.”

They are. And it’s really a storybook ending to a storybook 2017 for Team Homan. They won the Scotties and went undefeated at the world championships earlier this year. This week, ahead of the most pressure-filled test yet, they rented a house in Kanata so they could live together and have as few distractions as possible. On this Sunday morning, after they ate Homan’s fried eggs, they played a little trivia and listened to music and did everything they could to take their minds off the gravity of today’s game.

It started off with a bang for the hometown favourites, too, with back-to-back steals to take a 2-0 lead into the third end. Carey had the hammer to open this one thanks to an undefeated round robin, but on a routine takeout to blank End 1, the Winnipeg-born skip sent it flying by Homan’s, leading to the steal.

Then came the “Homan fans in the stands, if you’re with us clap your hands (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap—clap, clap, clap, clap—clap, clap)!” cheers. The fans were louder than they’ve been all week, as instructed. “We talked to them last night and said, ‘You need to triple what you did yesterday,’” Weagle said, grinning. “We wanted them loud.”

They went berserk again in the second when Homan stole another. She artfully snuck around two guards — Courtney and Weagle were sweeping like mad — to draw the button and nudge Carey’s rock just enough to sit shot-rock. Carey tried the same thing on her final stone, but ran into one of the guards, giving Homan a second straight steal.

Homan gave her team straight-faced fist bumps, and it was two-zip. Cue the crowd, again: “Let’s go Ho-Man!”

“To be able to get a lead early, especially with the four-rock rule where you can play quite defensively, that’s definitely a difference-maker,” said Courtney, who’s a nurse in Edmonton, and now an Olympian. “That being said, you’re only one end away from being tied again. We knew we had a lot of game to play — 10 ends is really long, so sometimes even a three- or four-point lead early doesn’t mean a lot in the end.

“We knew we had to stay really tough and just keep grinding it out.”

And though it was only two points and only two ends in, you got the feeling the hometown team wasn’t going to let up.

The teams traded singles and Homan had the 3-2 lead at the halfway mark. In the sixth, Miskew had a big double takeout — she let out a big exhale after that — and the shot proved huge, setting up for a Homan deuce. Carey missed a double takeout on her first shot, leaving Team Homan with one in the house, and Homan floated in the second.

It was 5-2 with four ends to go, and the crowd went bananas again. But this baby was far from over. Carey answered back with a pair of her own in the seventh, cutting Team Homan’s lead to one.

In the eighth, Carey just made a double takeout — “ooh, that was close,” she told her teammates, with a grin — and forced Homan to blank the end and take the hammer for the ninth end, still with a one-point lead. The Ottawa rink added a single for the two-point lead coming home, but Carey had the hammer.

As Homan glided down the ice for the final time and got set to take her place in that hack, the “Let’s go Ho-Man!” cheers started up again. Homan just missed the double takeout with her last shot, leaving Carey with a shot at forcing the extra end. But it wasn’t to be for the 33-year-old from Calgary.

“Had to hit it half an inch thinner,” Carey said, afterward. “That was kinda the story of the game, we were really close to lots of good shots, it just wasn’t our day.”

Team Homan wasn’t thinking or hoping for a miss on that last shot, they swear.

“I didn’t know if it was there, if it jammed or what, but we were ready to play an extra end,” Courtney said. “Lisa and I were talking about what Rachel would have to throw for the draw to the button if we were in to the extra, so we were very much still engaged.

“And then as soon as everything came to rest it all just kind of went crazy from there.”

It did. Miskew put her hand over her mouth and burst into tears. Homan threw her arms in the air and yelled, “Woo!” while We Are The Champions played.

“That game was won on inches here and there,” Homan said. “Just really proud of my team for sticking with it and battling through.”

Courtney was still crying as she walked off the blue carpet to do drug testing. She’s “a crier,” as she put it. But just before she walked off, she summed up what this moment meant to she and her teammates.

“It’s what every athlete dreams of,” Courtney said, blinking, trying to dry her eyes. “It’s so much bigger than just the Scotties — I mean, the Scotties is huge, it’s incredible, and the world championships are great, but the Olympics, since they only come around every four years, it’s such an honour.

“I think that one’s gonna take a long time to sink in.”