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Chelsea Carey finds right fit with new Alberta team

Chelsea Carey kept her options wide open during her search for a new curling team.

After her Calgary crew decided to disband, Carey even considered returning home to Winnipeg, which seems to be where everyone else is heading for the next Olympic cycle.

As it turned out, the perfect fit was just up the road. Carey announced Tuesday she will join the Edmonton-based trio of third Sarah Wilkes, second Dana Ferguson and lead Rachel Brown.

“I’m really excited about the team,” Carey said. “My biggest thing was I wanted to have a group of people that I feel want to take the same approach that I want to take to the next four years. You have to decide what kind of team you want to be four years from now and then reverse engineer that and figure out what things you need to do in order to get there.

“That’s the same mindset that these girls have. I know they work really hard, which is a big thing for me too. They’ve been around enough that they know the amount of work that it takes to get to the level that we’re trying to get to, so that was another big selling feature for me.”

Having all four players living within the same provincial borders is an advantage that could give them a jumpstart on the competition at the beginning of the next Olympic cycle.

“It’s a big thing, especially with a new team,” Carey said. “It’s a lot easier for us to practise together and throw together. It means that I’ll be in Edmonton a fair bit to meet up with them but it’s a pretty easy drive [from Calgary] versus having to fly somebody in. It’s hard to be in different provinces, especially early on. Once you’re established and know each others’ throws and that kind of thing then it becomes easier but for a new team to be geographically close is definitely a big help.”

Carey linked up with Amy Nixon, Jocelyn Peterman and Laine Peters in 2015 and clicked instantly capturing the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in their first season together. Nixon called it quits after they took bronze in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts last year and Curling Canada Hall-of-Fame inductee Cathy Overton-Clapham came on board this season. Team Carey, ranked No. 3 on the World Curling Tour’s year-to-date standings, has had a strong 2017-18 campaign finishing runner-up at the Canadian Olympic curling trials in December and claiming the Meridian Canadian Open in January.

“I definitely learned a ton the last couple of years and especially this past year we had probably the most consistent season I’ve ever been a part of,” Carey said. “We made the playoffs in everything, we were in the mix all the time and finding that consistency is tough on tour with the kind of teams that we face every week but that’s what you need to have. I certainly learned a lot this year about what it takes to get to that level of consistency, qualifying and putting yourself in a good position at every event.”

The team will close out the season together with the Players’ Championship in Toronto and the Humpty’s Champions Cup in their hometown next month before heading their separate ways.

“We want to finish strong just because of the kind of year that we’ve had,” Carey said. “We feel really good about what we’ve been able to accomplish as a group and want to finish that off on a good note together for sure.”

Wilkes played with 2006 Olympic bronze medallist Shannon Kleibrink during the past three seasons and represented Alberta at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts last year. She earned her first career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title at the 2017 Humpty’s Champions Cup filling in for second Joanne Courtney on Team Homan.

Ferguson and Brown have played side-by-side since 2012 with skip Val Sweeting. They competed for Alberta in back-to-back Scotties Tournament of Hearts in 2014 and 2015 winning silver medals both times. They have also captured three career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles and cashed in the GSOC Bonus Cup for 2016-17 as the season champions in the series.

While Carey would prefer it if she could wait until after the season finished before assembling a new team, the optics of the situation don’t allow that to happen with the free-agent frenzy already in full swing.

“You don’t want to miss out on players because you want to wait until the season is done if you know that you’re not staying with your existing team,” Carey said. “That’s just the reality of how it goes. I’m sure the same thing will happen to the men as soon as the Brier is over. You’ll start to see all of the shuffling and that’s just always the way it is.”

“That is what’s changed about curling since it’s become an Olympic sport,” she added. “You don’t just look within your own province and try to put together the best team you can with the players who live there. You consider moving, you consider out-of-province teams and you’re building a team for four years where before it was kind of year-to-year and see how it goes. Definitely, the Olympics has really changed the way we operate as far as putting together new teams and what the commitments are.”