Chelsea Carey doesn’t have to worry about her Scotties Tournament of Hearts being another one-and-done experience.
Carey, who lost the single-elimination wild-card game right off the bat a year ago, is in it for the long haul this time as Team Alberta. Her Calgary-based club — featuring third Sarah Wilkes, second Dana Ferguson and lead Rachel Brown — punched their ticket to Sydney, N.S., by winning provincial playdowns last month undefeated at 5-0.
The fact the team posted a perfect record isn’t as important to the 34-year-old Carey so much as they made it into the Canadian women’s curling championship main event and avoided the wild-card scenario.
“I don’t think it feels any different no matter how you do it,” Carey said during a phone interview earlier this week. “Winning the provincial is an incredible feeling regardless, so it was big for us. It was tough to watch on TV last year after we lost the wild-card game, especially after we had such a great season. For Rachel and Dana, (they) haven’t been back in a few years and got so close to winning it a couple times. Everybody wanted it pretty bad, so it felt really good to be able to pull it off.”
“It’s just a way better feeling knowing you’re in it,” she added. “Before the wild-card game, if you lost at your provincials, you were just done. Having a second life is a good thing but it’s still preferable, obviously, to win your province and to have that provincial crest on your back is special, too.”
It’ll be Carey’s fourth time playing in the full Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but her first with her current lineup. The Winnipeg-born skip made her national debut for Manitoba in 2014 winning bronze before moving two provinces west the following season. She won the championship as Team Alberta in 2016 and finished fourth at the worlds then claimed another bronze medal at the Scotties the next year as the Team Canada auto-berth.
Ferguson and Brown captured back-to-back Alberta titles in 2014 and 2015 with skip Val Sweeting, picking up silver both times at nationals. Wilkes served as Team Sweeting’s alternate in 2015 and competed in the Scotties two years later throwing second stones for skip Shannon Kleibrink.
Carey fell in last year’s wild-card game to Team Kerri Einarson, who went on to earn silver, and it was back to the drawing board for the next Olympic cycle. The all-new Team Carey had mixed results to start their rebuilding year relying on subs with Brown away on mat leave. Once Brown returned in December, the pieces began to fall into place.
“It was a bit of a tough start to the season but that makes sense: It’s going to be tough for anybody,” said Carey, who is fourth on the Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) standings. “We were lucky we had a couple great spares in Heather Rogers and Brianne Knapp, but it’s still a new team. You’re trying to figure each other out and then you’re throwing a spare in the mix and that’s not that easy with an established team.
“Especially for Dana, I think, because she and Rachel played together for so long that there’s a comfort level there. They’re all new to me, so for me, it probably wasn’t as crippling, but I think it was tough for her. Even Sarah has been their fifth at events and the three of them are all such good friends that I think it was tough for all of them.
“When she came back in, they seemed more comfortable. Everything started to click a little bit more. … It didn’t take very long, only a couple of events, and it seemed to come together, so that was awesome.”
While Team Carey is in the clear, provincial rivals Team Casey Scheidegger remain on the outside looking in as they’ll play Einarson, with her new all-skip squad, in Friday night’s wild-card game. The Thunderdome-esque “two teams enter, one team leaves” match might seem like a tease for the loser, however, Carey believes it’s great to have another top-ranked team in the event despite the heartbreak she experienced first hand a year ago.
“I think it’s the right thing, for sure, to have a CTRS-based team in the Scotties but it’s a hard game to play and then it’s really hard if you don’t win it because you get a little taste of the Scotties almost, kind of, but not quite and then you have to fly home and watch the rest of it on TV,” Carey said. “It’s a really difficult game to lose, so you’d always prefer to have it locked down by winning your province versus having to go down the wild-card route.”
Team Carey wasn’t able to bring an alternate along for the trip. A fifth player can be crucial to fill in for an injured or sick player as well as scout and match rocks on the other sheets, thus putting Team Carey at a bit of a disadvantage.
“It’s really tough. We obviously would prefer to have an alternate,” Carey said. “There are lots of things that they would do besides potentially playing games but it’s just the financial burden of it with it being so far away and flights so expensive. It’s a 10-day long event, hopefully, if you’re in it all the way through, so then you’re paying for an extra hotel room that whole time. We have to pay for their jacket to be on the ice.
“The cost of it is crazy. Unfortunately, financially with all of those expenses falling on the team it was just too tough for us.”
Team Alberta will have a coach on the bench with Chelsea’s dad, Dan Carey, along to offer his expertise.
“I’m looking forward to that,” Chelsea said. “He coached us, my Manitoba team, in 2014 but he wasn’t coaching us in ’16, ’17. It’s pretty cool to have him back there. It’ll be weird for him probably to wear an Alberta jacket, he’s never done that, but I’m excited to have him on the bench for sure.”
Papa Carey captured the Brier for Manitoba in 1992 and it’s understandable if he’ll feel a little uncomfortable at first wearing Alberta’s Wild Rose crest instead of his home province’s buffalo.
“He wore Alberta colours in ’16 when we were Team Alberta, with the hoodie and everything, and he thought even that was weird,” Chelsea said with a laugh. “To have his own name on the back above the Wild Rose I’m sure will feel a bit strange but he’s excited to be part of it and to be coming with us.”
Team Alberta kicks off its Scotties Tournament of Hearts run Saturday afternoon against none other than Team Manitoba, skipped by Tracy Fleury. An interesting connection: Dan’s skip during his Brier victory in 1992 was the late Vic Peters, whose daughter Liz Fyfe throws second stones for Fleury.