TORONTO — One bad week was all it took for Tracy Fleury to slip outside of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling.
Fleury and her team from Sudbury, Ont., had been competing consistently in the elite series for the past couple years and entered 2017-18 ranked 11th on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit.
While that may seem like it should have been enough of a cushion to remain in the coveted top 15 group required for Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events, a disappointing 0-4 record at the season-opening Tour Challenge Tier 1 in September saw them tumble to 18th in the standings.
Fleury said it’s tough to manage as her team planned to play a reduced schedule while preparing for the pre-trials, but have had to ramp things back up a bit with several other teams rising up the ranks.
“We find we need to play a lot in order to stay in and one of the things we found about last season was we didn’t have enough time to practice and do team training,” Fleury said Saturday. “This season we wanted to play a little bit less and do some team training instead. We had one tough spiel right at the start and that was enough to make the difference.”
While Team Fleury missed the cut for the Masters, a good result this weekend at the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard could put them back in for the Boost National taking place next month in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
“The points are tight for sure, so this is an important one for us,” Fleury said. “We’d like to somehow get into the Sault Slam. That’s the goal.”
One fallback is the sponsor’s exemption spot, which was awarded to Krista McCarville’s team from Thunder Bay, Ont., for the Boost National last season. McCarville, ranked 25th, is also competing in the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard this weekend and looking to have a good run as well to get back into that conversation.
“Sponsor’s exemption is always a really good honour and we got it last year,” said McCarville, who earned silver for Northern Ontario at the 2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts and finished fourth at nationals last season. “We’ll see how things go.”
“You always want to do really good at an event especially leading up to the pre-trials,” she added. “We want to have a good start to the season and continue our season strong until the pre-trials. All these events are good practice and learning different ice surfaces. Just getting out and playing as a team as much as we can, I think, is really important leading up to the pre-trials.”
World Curling Tour operations manager Gerry Geurts said there is a misconception that once teams get into the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling they’re set as changes made to the points system in recent years has seen a number of teams like Allison Flaxey, Michelle Englot and Casey Scheidegger put in the hard work at the ground level to seemingly come out of nowhere and secure high spots in the rankings.
“They were all far enough outside of the top 10 that you wouldn’t have turned around and been like, ‘Oh I’m going to pick them,’ to have the year to jump into the top 10 in the rankings,” Geurts said. “For teams like that, they had great seasons, strong seasons, and they’ve put themselves in a position now where they’ll stay in the Grand Slams [with] consistent results throughout the season. Without being successful over the long-term these teams will fall back and fall out.
“Look at Kerri Einarson’s team. They even managed to win a Grand Slam event last year, which is a pretty significant chunk of points, and they fell out of that top 15 range. This year they had to battle back through the Tier 2. You look at Einarson’s team, Fleury’s team, Kelsey Rocque’s team is another that has fallen back, EunJung Kim’s team from Korea has fallen out of the ranks.”
Geurts also points to Anna Hasselborg of Sweden as another example of someone who started on the fringe last season but has now climbed all the way up to No. 1.
“I think the changes in the points system that were implemented … those changes have really made it more possible for teams on the outside looking in,” he said. “Events on the tour that are your next-tier events after the Grand Slams, winning those events are worth as much as making the quarterfinals, making the semifinals in a lot of cases, in a Grand Slam event. For teams looking to climb that ladder, those are events to target and make sure that you go out and win some of those. We’ve all seen the examples, especially on the women’s side, climbing in has been very possible.”
Balancing life with curling is another tricky factor. Team Fleury is a five-player rotation with third Jennifer Wylie, second Jenna Walsh, lead Amanda Gates, and alternate Crystal Webster from Calgary. Webster’s addition two years ago has allowed Team Fleury to enter more events when one of the other members isn’t able to take time off. This week for example, Webster is in at third as Wylie recently had a baby.
The team of McCarville, third Kendra Lilly, second Ashley Sippala and lead Sarah Potts don’t have that flexibility. McCarville, who works full-time as a teacher, had to decline her team’s invite to the Tour Challenge Tier 2 as it conflicted with the start of the school year.
“It was my first week of work and I just thought, the poor kids, I can’t leave them the first week,” said McCarville, who finished runner-up the following weekend at the Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall, Ont. “It’s just unfortunate it was that week because if it was any other week we could have made it. I just have a little bit of a dedication to a job too, but we went to Cornwall a couple weeks ago and were successful there.”
“Life is tricky in the winter with the family, full-time teaching job and full-time curling job,” she added. “We balance it and we have good family to support us, so that is what’s really important.”
It’s taking that next step that Geurts points to Team Scheidegger as one that now has to make a decision on raising their commitment level and going all in.
“They’re in a great spot, now it comes down to life choices and whether you want to do this or not because it’s not an easy life either being a competitive athlete and the stuff behind the scenes that people don’t see: going to the gym, practice every day and making sure you’re throwing lots of rocks and doing all that. That’s the stuff I think a lot of people trying to break into the top don’t see,” Geurts said. “It’s the hard work underneath. It’s like the Titanic and the iceberg. You see 10 percent and what you see above the water, that 90 percent [below] is the work put in behind the scenes.
“I think the Colton Flasch situation is the same boat. There’s a big difference curling with Steve Laycock and that team and the work they put in, it’s their life, whereas his new team he’s curling with buddies of his, their commitment level is going to be a little more balanced with everything else in their lives. They’re going to have their jobs, be able to hang out with their families and see their friends every once in a while whereas these top teams their commitment is so much more than that because they need to be there.
“It comes down to life choices, what you want to do with your life and at the end of the day I think some of these players that are outside of the top group probably lead a more balanced quality of life but those guys at the top are chasing that dream, Olympics and world championships, and for them this is what probably drives those teams too.”
Fleury and McCarville have those Olympic dreams although they’ll both have to take an extra road through the pre-trials next month. Two teams from that event will join the seven others who have already qualified for December’s Canadian Olympic Curling Trials, which will determine the nation’s representatives for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“We’re pumped. We’re so excited to be in the pre-trials,” McCarville said. “It’s definitely where we want to be. We have to have a really good week because there are such strong teams there so we have to play our best to get out of there.”
NEWS & NOTES
– Fleury and McCarville posted pairs of wins in Saturday’s round-robin action. Fleury defeated Hailey Armstrong 9-7 and Eve Belisle 6-4 while McCarville beat Hollie Duncan 5-1 and Jestyn Murphy 7-3. Both have two more round-robin games to go Sunday.
– Julie Tippin of Woodstock, Ont., tops the leaderboard at 3-0 downing Mary-Anne Arsenault 8-3 and Kerry Galusha 6-5 in Saturday’s action.
– Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., is through to the men’s playoffs after stealing a point in the eighth end to defeat Halifax’s Jamie Murphy 6-5 in the evening A qualifier. Team Gushue, minus Gushue, captured the title last season.
– Codey Maus of London, Ont., also slipped through in the other A qualifier upsetting Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud 7-6. Maus scored three in the seventh to go up by one, limited Ulsrud to a single in the eighth and scored the winner in the extra end.
– Glenn Howard of Penetanguishene has been eliminated following a 7-6 loss to Wayne Tuck Jr. of Brantford in a rematch of last season’s Ontario Tankard final during C side action. Howard, who toppled Tuck for his record 17th provincial title, finished at 0-3 with spare Adam Spencer filling in for third Richard Hart.
– Preliminary play continues Sunday with the playoffs set for Monday.