Alberta’s Laura Walker to skip new curling team next season

Laura Walker shoots a stone during the 2018 Tour Challenge in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Anil Mungal)

Laura Walker was all set on taking a break from women’s curling next season and only competing in mixed doubles in order to focus on starting a family.

The Edmonton skip is staying in the women’s game though linking up with third Kate Cameron, second Taylor McDonald and lead Nadine Scotland.

Although Walker was pretty firm about her difficult decision to step back and didn’t want to let a new squad down, it was something her good pal McDonald said during their conversations that resonated with her.

“I’m not actually sure she even knows that this is what convinced me in the end but she made a comment and I believe she said, ‘Of course that’s OK. I hate that women feel like they have to choose,’” Walker said. “That was the way that I was feeling, to be quite honest.

“I was really feeling like I had to make a choice, especially because I was starting with a new team. … That comment from her really went to my heart and made me feel I would be supported. I loved that she said that because that’s exactly how I was feeling. That’s what put me over the edge.”

Walker had placed curling ahead of her family before as she isn’t one to do things half-heartedly and made sacrifices in order to keep up with the (Jennifer) Joneses of the curling world. She also has the full support from husband Geoff Walker, who plays lead for skip Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L.

“It costs a lot of money to play,” said Walker, who is originally from Scarborough, Ont. “If you’re not going hard and trying to get into the Slams, giving exposure to potential sponsors and all of that then you’re not getting any sponsors. You’re paying out of pocket, you’re taking time off of work and it’s too hard for a lot of people to do that.

“Especially for me with my husband also being a competitive curler, if we are to have kids it makes it pretty tough for us but I have his full support too that we’ll figure it out as we go and do everything that we can together.”

Save the dates! The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling has released its schedule for next season with the Canadian Beef Masters kicking off the 2019-20 campaign Oct. 22-27 in North Bay, Ont.

McDonald and Walker became close friends during the previous Olympic cycle while playing together on teams skipped by Chelsea Carey and Kelsey Rocque. Walker, who had thrown third stones, returned to her skipping roots last year after Team Rocque split up and formed a new crew with veterans Cathy Overton-Clapham, Lori Olson-Johns and Laine Peters. Although they had a good run, the team didn’t have any long-term aspirations planned out together.

“I knew going into this season that we were always a team that was taking it a year at a time,” Walker said. “We weren’t one of the teams that put a team together for a four-year Olympic cycle.”

Meanwhile, McDonald had moved to Winnipeg to join Alli Flaxey’s team but was thinking about returning to Edmonton and started talking to Walker when their clubs parted ways after coming short at provincial playdowns. Walker shared her hiatus plans but McDonald inquired again a few weeks later.

“She pumped my tires a bit and told me she thought that it’s a bit too early for me to step back and thinks that we can start something pretty good here in Alberta,” Walker said. “Just being such good friends, we were really open and honest with each other about what we would each be looking for on a team, what we’d both be wanting to do.”

Walker is looking forward to getting to know new teammates Cameron and Scotland and playing alongside them.

“I’m really excited about a new partnership with Kate,” Walker said. “I’ve always thought highly of her as a player.

“Nadine has always skipped in the past but she was looking for a change. She’s already thinking about how she can excel at her new position and her dedication is impressive.”

Cameron played alongside McDonald on Team Flaxey but isn’t joining her on the move to Edmonton. Canadian teams are allowed one out-of-province player and Cameron will remain in Manitoba as their designated import. Team Walker and Team Flaxey had out-of-province players last season and that learning experience, both the good and bad, will aid the new squad.

“We had a lot of discussions before we committed to each other about coming to an event a day earlier or staying a day later or finding those times that we can really make the most out of being together as a foursome,” Walker said. “Everyone was on the same page as that. I think we are going to be doing things a little bit differently this year with an out-of-province player than maybe either of our teams did last year just because we learned quite how hard that is.”

The new Team Walker is looking three years ahead to securing a spot for the 2021 Canadian Olympic curling trials, whether through a direct berth or qualifying via pre-trials, as well as competing for Alberta at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Provincial playdowns will have one notable omission next year as Carey will not return to defend the Alberta title since winning the national championship last month guarantees her club a place in the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts as Team Canada. Alberta is still a province with a talent level deeper than Mariana Trench and Walker welcomes the challenge as it’ll prepare her team for what’s ahead.

“That’s one less really competitive team that we’re going to have to compete against but we’re still going to have to beat some of the best teams in the world just to get out of our province,” Walker said. “That’s a motivator for us for sure but it’s no different anywhere else. You play in Manitoba, it’s a tough province. You play in Ontario, you’re playing against arguably the best team in the world (Team Rachel Homan). You’re not getting away from it no matter where you play really.

“We want to be a team that once we get to the Scotties, we’re going to win games, we’re going to compete, we’re going to have a chance to actually win the Scotties instead of just get there to get there.”

While Walker’s season in women’s play is over, her mixed doubles campaign resumes next week and she’s looking forward to defending the Canadian title with Saskatoon’s Kirk Muyres in Fredericton, N.B.

“I’ve been away from competing since provincials, so it’s been a little while for me,” Walker said. “I love competing with Kirk. He’s one of my favourite people. He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever played with. We have a lot of fun when we’re out there and we want to win every single time when we step out onto the ice. I know that we work really well when we play together. We just have a lot of confidence going into this next week and are really excited to play.”

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