Flaxey forms new curling team in Winnipeg for next season

Allison Flaxey delivers a stone during the 2017 Boost National in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (Anil Mungal)

Add another one to the Winnipeg list.

So says third Kate Cameron, who announced her new team Friday. Cameron and lead Raunora Westcott, who previously played together on Team Englot, have aligned with skip Allison Flaxey and second Taylor McDonald for next season.

The foursome joins a provincial field deeper than Mariana Trench following other recent high-profile moves such as Val Sweeting linking up with Kerri Einarson and Tracy Fleury skipping Einarson’s former club. Fortunately, there’s plenty of room at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Reigning champ Jennifer Jones is guaranteed the Team Canada auto-berth next year freeing up Manitoba’s spot for someone else while it’s possible two of them could end up duking it out for the wild-card entry.

“So many people probably think we’re crazy but you’ve got to beat the best to be the best,” Cameron said. “To be able to play against them a lot more than others is huge and it’ll help your game grow.”

McDonald, who currently throws second for Edmonton’s Kelsey Rocque, is used to facing tough competition in her home province of Alberta but Manitoba is almost a completely different monster.

“If it wasn’t hard enough already out of Manitoba, it’s not getting any easier,” McDonald said. “It is really nice to have that wild-card spot and to have a little bit of a fallback and hopefully we can have a good enough year to put ourselves into a position to be in that.”

Cameron took on the role of general manager assembling the new team by reaching out to Flaxey and McDonald, whose teams had both split up.

“I just spoke with them separately to figure out what they were interested in,” Cameron said. “Once I found out their commitment levels and what they were interested in I kind of put it all together.”

Between McDonald and Flaxey, who lives in Caledon, Ont., one of them had to make the move to Winnipeg in order for the team to meet provincial residency rules. Although Flaxey is originally from Winnipeg, it’s McDonald who is taking the plunge.

“I’m actually really excited about it,” McDonald said. “I haven’t had to make a really big move in my life ever; the farthest I’ve gone is about five hours from home. I’m in a place right now with my work and my home life that I’m able to do that, so I’m pretty fortunate. The girls have been really welcoming and inviting so I’m looking forward to it.”

McDonald believes it was a “no-brainer” to accept the invitation.

“I think they’re all really fierce competitors in their own right,” she said. “They’ve all had some big successes before and I’m hoping to learn from all of them. Also, I think they all have really great demeanours on the ice. I just respect how they play and how they treat other teams.”

Playing with their captain out of province isn’t something new for Cameron and Westcott either. When their skip Kristy McDonald stepped back two years ago, Regina’s Michelle Englot entered the mix to finish out the quadrennial and her career.

The Michelle Englot Retirement Tour quickly turned into a Revenge Tour for the seven-time Saskatchewan champion. Team Englot earned the Buffalo crest to represent Manitoba at the 2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts and finished runner-up at nationals — a career-best result for the crew — losing to Rachel Homan’s Ontario team in an extra end during the final.

They returned to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this year in the Team Canada auto-berth spot with Homan also winning the Roar of the Rings and heading off to the Winter Olympics.

“I have a lot to take out of curling with Michelle,” Cameron said. “I think she’s just an awesome person and she’s become such a good friend of mine. She taught me so much stuff. The great run we went on last year in 2017 and getting all the way to the national Scotties final and losing to Rachel Homan, that was probably one of our best weeks that we’ve put together as a team.

“Honestly just curling with those girls was so easy and so fun that I think the chemistry we had together both on and off the ice was really why we were so successful.”

Englot’s departure wasn’t the only roster change looming as second Leslie Wilson-Westcott, who is an environmental specialist, opted to take a break from the game to complete her master’s degree.

“[Raunora and I] had started talking probably around Christmas time about what we wanted to do, if we wanted to continue playing, at what level we wanted to keep playing and if that was something we wanted to commit to,” Cameron said. “Probably just before the national Scotties we knew that we were going to keep playing together. We weren’t sure what was going to happen [but] our first choice was to stay together.”

Meanwhile, McDonald isn’t finished with Team Rocque just yet. Rocque is ranked 11th on the World Curling Tour’s year-to-date standings and inline for a Players’ Championship spot plus the possibility of playing in the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup.

“We’re excited to play in that and kind of have one last hurrah,” McDonald said. “We want to finish strong and have a good weekend together.”

The ultimate goal now is to get to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and that road started as soon as the trials ended back in December even with plenty of tournaments still remaining on the calendar.

“It’s a little bit awkward but the ultimate goal is 2022 Beijing,” Cameron said. “It’s crazy to think about but you’re not just forming a team for one season anymore. You’re forming a team with highs and lows to potentially get to that point in 2022. Taylor is the only one who’s finishing out her season. We’re not going to be in the Players’ or the Champions Cup and neither will Alli’s team. We want her to go out there and do well with Team Rocque and hopefully bring some more points to our team.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.