RIGA, Latvia — The cobblestone streets and picturesque beauty of the Latvian capital provided a welcome respite from the rigours of competition for the Canadian team at the world women’s curling championship.
Rachel Homan and her Ottawa Curling Club teammates took full advantage of a favourable schedule by sleeping in, doing some shopping and enjoying a leisurely Friday while taking in the city’s historic village.
By late afternoon, they were refreshed and well-rested as they got back down to business with a 30-minute practice session ahead of Saturday’s Page playoff 3-4 game against the United States.
"This week we had a lot of morning games and it’s a little bit stressful when you’re not in your own bed, trying to get a good sleep and (have to) wake up at six," said Canadian third Emma Miskew. "So it was nice to just not set an alarm in the morning."
The Canadians treated themselves to a nice breakfast and visited some local shops later in the day. It was a welcome change from the whirlwind pace they’ve maintained since competing at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts a few weeks earlier.
"It was nice to have one day where we could just do our own thing and relax a little bit, which we haven’t really had a chance to do … I feel a lot more energized now," Miskew said.
Canada finished third in the round robin at 8-3 and got a nice break with an off-day once the playoff schedule was set. American skip Erika Brown was 6-5 and claimed the fourth playoff spot with a 7-4 win over Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni in Friday’s tiebreaker at the Volvo Sports Center.
Sweden’s Margaretha Sigfridsson defeated Scotland’s Eve Muirhead 7-5 in the Page playoff 1-2 game later in the day. Sigfridsson advanced to Sunday’s gold-medal game while Muirhead will play in the semifinal on Saturday night.
The 3-4 game winner advances to the semifinal. The winner of the semifinal plays for gold on Sunday while the loser plays the 3-4 game loser for bronze.
Canada’s round-robin losses came to the teams that made the playoffs. The Americans needed an extra end to get by Homan 5-4 last Monday night.
Early jitters may have been a problem for the Canadians, who are making their first world championship appearance and took a few days to settle into a rhythm. Homan closed out the round robin with four straight wins and enters the playoffs with plenty of momentum.
The 40-year-old Brown is making her seventh career appearance here and has a veteran team to back her up. The Canadians, meanwhile, are all in their mid-20s.
"I think they have a great team top to bottom," Brown said. "I think we have a lot of years with us and I have a lot of experience so hopefully that’ll help us out a bit."
Brown, a resident of Oakville, Ont., won silver medals at the world championships in 1996 and 1999. The dual citizen hopes to take advantage of the increased pressure that Canada may face while representing a curling-mad country like Canada.
Homan, meanwhile, is content to use the same approach that worked so well at the recent national playdowns.
"I think it’s no different than at the Scotties or any level of competition," she said. "We know we have the ability to win but there’s a lot of tough teams you’ve got to beat and a lot of pressure to try to win every game. We face that pressure all the time so it’s no different coming here and trying to win. I feel the same.
"I feel like we can win and I have confidence in my team. We’ve just got to keep playing well."
Homan is hoping to win Canada’s first world women’s title since Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones was victorious in 2008. The 23-year-old skip beat Jones last month in Kingston, Ont., to qualify for the world championship.
Canadian coach Earle Morris thinks Homan has shown she’s quite comfortable in high-pressure moments.
"If you’re a great skip you embrace playing in the position, you embrace playing in the spotlight and Rachel demonstrates that time and time again that she likes being there," he said. "And the results speak for themselves."
Alberta’s Heather Nedohin skipped Canada to a bronze medal at the 2012 event in Lethbridge. Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott won gold last year.
Canada leads all countries with 29 podium appearances in the tournament’s 34-year history. Canada also leads with 15 gold medals, well ahead of second-place Sweden with eight.