When Rachel Homan’s team hits the ice next Wednesday to start the Humpty’s Champions Cup, the Ottawa club will look a lot different than when they previously played in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling over a year ago.
A lot has changed on and off the ice for Team Homan since the Meridian Canadian Open in January 2020. For starters, Homan gave birth to daughter Bowyn late last month. Third Emma Miskew is expected to take the reins at skip with Edmonton’s Laura Walker joining as a spare.
Miskew, who has played with Homan since their days in Little Rocks, said in a phone interview last week it's definitely going to be different but she's hoping to have fun in her skip debut taking on the top teams in the world.
“If it doesn’t go as planned we can always switch it up but I just thought it's a good experience since I haven’t played without her since we were children,” Miskew said. “You never know, if something ever were to happen in a big game, it’s just nice to have a little bit of experience under my belt. I thought it was a good time given not only the year we’ve had but the points are frozen. I’m just going to go into it and try to enjoy it because we’re lucky to be curling, first of all, but also who knows how it’ll go."
Miskew has won a record 10 Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling women's titles with Homan at the helm and will have big Goldline shoes to fill.
It's not the first time a third has taken over for an interim period though. Third Mark Nichols skipped when Brad Gushue was experiencing a hip/groin issue that kept him sidelined for the first few months of the 2016-17 season and helped the St. John's, N.L., club maintain its world No. 1 men's ranking. Last year, Tabitha Peterson stepped up with Nina Roth on maternity leave and skip the team all the way to the U.S. women's championship. Roth returned to the lineup this season at third with Peterson remaining at skip.
"I know some people jumped in like Mark Nichols and he was very, very good at it, but I think that is an exception to the rule," Miskew said with a laugh. "I’m hoping I’m OK but we’ll see.”
The change at the back end isn't the only difference as the Humpty's Champions Cup will also be Team Homan’s first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event with their retooled front end. Sarah Wilkes came on board at second and Joanne Courtney slid over to lead after the team parted ways with Lisa Weagle at the end of last season.
“Jo has completely embraced a new position and she’s playing really well, too,” Miskew said. “She’s just such a hard worker and everyone knows how great a sweeper she is. ... Sarah jumped in and fit in right away. We were hoping to play in the fall and integrate the new lineup prior to playing a national championship, which obviously didn’t happen, so we just had to go in and hope for the best. She’s awesome, she’s such a good team player and really motivated. It’s been fun so far in the few events that we’ve been playing but she’s just great. I love having her on board.”
Team Homan began their Calgary bubble run representing Ontario in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in February and earned a third consecutive silver medal falling to defending champions Team Kerri Einarson 9-7 in the championship game. Miskew was most impressed with the performance of Homan, who was eight months pregnant at the time.
“She played amazing and you can tell just how she was getting down the ice it wasn’t easy for her even just to be walking let only curling and throwing peels with the accuracy that she was,” Miskew said. “That was insanely impressive.”
Given how the COVID-19 pandemic essentially erased the fall tour season and kept curling clubs closed through the winter as well, Miskew was really proud of her team’s performance given they barely had any time to adjust to their new lineup and have had limited ice time.
“A few people have commented like, ‘Oh three silvers in a row, losing three finals in a row,’ but this year that is not how we feel in any way,” Miskew said. “We’re really happy with our results. If someone before the event had said you’re going to come in second, we would have been like, ‘Amazing!’ We were locked into our homes. The whole year was almost a full lockdown where we couldn’t train together let alone train at all a lot of the time. It was hopping into an event and trying to make the best of a situation this year that wasn’t ideal. I thought we did a really good job of doing that.”
Miskew also competed with Ryan Fry and Courtney played with Darren Moulding during the Canadian mixed doubles championship last month. While Miskew throws the critical final stone in mixed doubles, at least in the four-player game she will have a broom to aim at and will also not have to worry about sweeping her own rocks.
"I found that was the hardest part in the mixed doubles," Miskew said. "The first shot when you’re throwing that draw in there, without a broom it’s not so bad because you throw the shot so many times that you start to learn exactly where you need to be. That last shot, it can be anywhere on the sheet and you have no idea what it’s going to do a lot of the time but having a sweeper is also really important. I was like no, I want a sweeper but then it’s tough to aim at nothing.
"You’re kind of making your own imaginary broom back there. I’m excited again to get back on with four-person curling and we’re just really looking forward to it. It’s been a long year with no curling."
Super spare Walker skipped Alberta to a bronze medal in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and also competed in the mixed doubles event with Kirk Muyres. Walker, who is originally from Scarborough, Ont., played with Homan and Miskew back in the day winning the Canadian junior title and world junior silver medal in 2010 and also subbed at second for a few games during the 2019 Players’ Championship. She also filled in at lead on Jennifer Jones's team during the 2019 BOOST National and reached the final.
It's no surprise Walker was the team's first call given their history together plus her versatility and experience on that ice.
“As soon as Grand Slam announced the teams, we were like, ‘OK we need to ask Laura now before somebody else does,’” Miskew said. “She’s super-spared these last couple years if she’s not in it (with her own team) and if someone needs a player she’s going to be there anyway. It’s really nice, not only has she spared and played for a lot of people because she’s such a talented athlete but also she was in the Scotties, so she was in the bubble already and also did really well in the mixed doubles.
"She’s been on the ice just as much if not more than I have and Jo, so it’s great just to have someone that has that experience on that ice in the bubble. A great athlete and a great teammate so we’re really happy to have her on board.”
Team Homan take on Team Einarson of Gimli, Man., in the opening draw of the Humpty's Champions Cup, April 14, 10:30 a.m. ET / 8:30 a.m. local time at Calgary's WinSport Arena. The event will be closed to the general public. Broadcast coverage begins April 15 at 2 p.m. ET / Noon local time on Sportsnet.