Hollie Duncan already aiming high for next curling season

Hollie Duncan delivers a rock during the Ontario Scotties Tournament of Hearts on Jan. 31, 2019, in Elmira, Ont. (Anil Mungal)

Toronto’s Hollie Duncan didn’t waste much time making sure her curling team stayed intact for another year.

Less than two weeks after falling in the Ontario provincial curling championships tiebreaker at the start of the month, Duncan confirmed her team featuring third Lauren Hickey, second Cheryl Kreviazuk and lead Karen Sagle will return next season.

Duncan can rest easy now knowing her plans are set as her team looks to amp it up for 2019-20.

“It’s always nice to confirm things once the season’s done,” said Duncan, whose team plays out of the Royal Canadian Curling Club on the east side of town in Riverdale. “Once provincials ended, we all decided let’s just take a couple of weeks to think about things. [We] got on a phone call and everyone was pretty happy so we decided to give it another go.”

You couldn’t blame Duncan if she felt like there was a little bit of unfinished business for her team after their title defence at provincial playdowns in Elmira didn’t go as planned.

Despite the lack of power and heat at their Airbnb rental, Team Duncan brought the firepower to the ice entering the final draw of round-robin play with a 4-2 record and sitting in a tie for second place in the standings. They weren’t in the clear for playoffs though and needed a victory over world No. 1 Team Rachel Homan in order to avoid a tiebreaker scenario. They’d also need to do it without their skip.

Duncan, who is about six months pregnant, said she started feeling sharp chest pains while breathing the day before. She talked to her midwife, who said it could either be muscular pain or a blood clot. When the pain persisted in the morning, Duncan headed to a local hospital as a precaution. Duncan was still hoping she’d be able to make it back in time for the game against Homan, and her heart sunk when it became clear that wouldn’t be the case.

The team shuffled the lineup for the game as Hickey called the shots, Sagle moved up to vice skip and 2019 provincial junior champion Alice Holyoke subbed at lead. Team Duncan held their ground until Team Homan pulled away in the late stages scoring a deuce in seven, stealing a single in the eight and three more points in nine to pad out the 10-3 final score.

Meanwhile, Duncan spent seven hours at the hospital between blood tests and an ultrasound that came back positive for a blood clot. After a CT scan produced a normal result, Duncan raced back to the arena for the evening tiebreaker against Team Julie Tippin. Team Duncan put up another fight but lost 10-5 as their season came to a close on a downer.

“Behind the scenes, [my teammates] were just trying to find another player just in case and they were very supportive, especially during that tiebreaker game,” Duncan said. “I felt like it wasn’t my best but they were very encouraging and it was nice to have that support.”

Duncan was disappointed with the result but said it’s just a sport and she has to look out for not only herself but her baby as well.

“I do need to take priority but it was also hard to turn off the competitive side and just be like OK well things happen, especially since we were still in it and still had a shot,” Duncan said. “I felt like I had let my team down because at the end of the day it did turn out to be partly muscular but that’s hindsight and I didn’t know at the time.”

It wasn’t the end of the line for everyone on Team Duncan. Kreviazuk joined provincial champions Team Homan as their alternate for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts once again. Kreviazuk served as Homan’s fifth player in the past including gold-medal wins at the Canadian and world championships in 2017 plus the Olympic Trials.

Kreviazuk’s workload increased this year, however. Second Joanne Courtney is expecting her first baby and stepped out of the lineup in the late stages of a few round-robin games. Kreviazuk didn’t miss a beat as Team Homan sported a 3-0 record with her on the ice and added a silver medal to her haul.

“It shows a lot in terms of their character they have trust in me as a player,” Kreviazuk said. “I’m absolutely thrilled to be on the ice and every time they call me out onto the ice I smile a little.”

Courtney said it was great knowing Kreviazuk could enter the game at any point and fill in seamlessly.

“You like to pretend you’re in control but having a little one on the way, anything can happen,” Courtney said. “She played really well against us in the provincials and she’s played second all year. Knowing she could come in if something were to happen is a really nice mental comfort for me, knowing that I can just go out there and do what I do and if something were to happen the team wouldn’t be left [hanging].

“I think she’s been fantastic. She deserves an all-star fifth award and we’re so happy she came with us.”

That experience with Team Homan has aided Kreviazuk in her time with Team Duncan as well and their skip explained how everyone has different roles that contribute to the club.

“Cheryl is very organized and that probably comes from being the fifth for Team Homan managing the schedules. She does that for us, which is very helpful,” Duncan said. “Karen can be a little bit more of the intensity on the team. You need a little bit of both. You don’t want four people with kind of the same personalities. If we’ve had a bad end or something she’s the one to tell us to shake it off.

“We all like to joke, too. If you’re spending so much time with people you want to be able to get along and one example of that is the heat situation we had at provincials. We tried to make a joke out of it and try to laugh, otherwise, it might have been really annoying.”

Hickey was the new addition to the lineup this season, taking over for Stephanie LeDrew, but is also a longtime friend having played alongside Duncan in the past winning back-to-back Canadian university championships for the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks in 2008 and 2009. Reestablishing that chemistry came quite easy for Duncan.

“Laura’s personality is just extremely easy-going so we thought she’d fit in really well,” Duncan said. “It’s also helpful for me having someone who’s so calm in the back-end. She also doesn’t get down. She misses a shot, she’s not pouty about it and gets over it. It’s just really nice playing with someone who’s really level.”

It also helps Hickey lives in Toronto too, giving Duncan a practise partner.

“Last year with Steph being in Sarnia and then Karen and Cheryl in Ottawa, we couldn’t be more spread apart across southern Ontario,” Duncan said. “Laura and I play in a league Tuesdays and practise together. It’s nice having someone who’s in the same city.”

Despite the heartbreaking finish to the year, Team Duncan had a strong season on tour finishing runner-up at the Shorty Jenkins Classic and reaching the semifinals at the Tour Challenge Tier 2. Duncan was grateful for the opportunity in the latter — to compete in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event in Thunder Bay, Ont. — as playing on arena ice was beneficial for the preparation for playdowns.

“We found last time with going to the Scotties, we hadn’t played in an arena all year, so the beginning of the week was a huge adjustment,” Duncan said. “This year we really wanted to have that opportunity, so we were thankful when we made it. There were some European teams that declined it, which allowed us to get in, and it worked out for us.”

Consistency was key to their success down the stretch and Duncan is already looking to build upon that next season as she hopes their Tour Challenge Tier 2 appearance becomes the first of many in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling.

“In the first part, it was hard because there were some weekends where we didn’t have all four (players),” Duncan said. “It was like every weekend we missed someone, so we didn’t do so well. … Every time we had all four players we were a lot more consistent, so we’re hoping to carry that forward next year and we can bump it up a little bit more. Maybe we can make it into the actual Slams.”

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