Excuse Kerri Einarson for not remembering the process of forming a new team, it’s been a while.
Einarson and her East St. Paul, Man., club featuring third Selena Kaatz, second Liz Fyfe and lead Kristin MacCuish had quite the ride from flying under the radar half a decade ago to securing silver at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts earlier this month.
But Einarson already knew this season was going to be the end of the line regardless and she’d have to start targeting new teammates at some point for the next Olympic cycle. As it turned out, Einarson didn’t have to do anything — the perks of being popular perhaps — and Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur contacted her before she could even begin a frantic search.
“We knew we had two events left but it’s not until April so we can’t wait until then to figure out a team,” Einarson said. “I know teams have already been looking and teams that weren’t at nationals were already forming before we knew it. We definitely had to get a jump on this.
“When they approached me I was like, OK, well, I guess teams already started to look. I didn’t start messaging anyone or anything. I wasn’t sure how it all worked. As soon as I got these messages from Shannon and Briane I just went with it.”
Meilleur and Birchard skipped their own Winnipeg-based teams previously but were ready to take on new roles with Einarson in order to compete regularly in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling. Birchard even picked up some extra assignments recently filling in for Olympic-bound Kaitlyn Lawes at third on Jennifer Jones’s team at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and won the national championship.
“Shannon actually reached out to me first and told me that her team was changing and then Briane too,” Einarson said. “Briane and I have texted the last few years, since I took her as my fifth at Scotties, and we were close. She played baseball with me a few times. It was just going to be me, Shannon at third, Briane at second and then we were going to find a lead.”
The search for a lead ended abruptly when yet another skip, Val Sweeting, inquired about joining after her Edmonton team announced they were disbanding too.
“She was like, how would they feel if they played front end,” Einarson said. “I was like, ‘Oh! I don’t know. I’ll have to ask them.’ I sat down with them, we talked and they thought it was an amazing opportunity for them to get themselves out there and to get into the Slams as well. I think we’d be on the bubble for that or close or in.
“That was one of the goals for Shannon and Briane, to be into the Slams, so they thought it would be great. They would love to play different positions, embrace them and be the best lead and second that we need.”
That’s how four skips came together with the all-new Team Einarson, based in Gimli, Man., announcing its lineup Friday. Einarson will call the shots with Sweeting at third, Birchard at second and Meilleur at lead.
Sweeting, a three-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling champion, said shifting to third was something she had been thinking about for a while but never entertained the notion until things started unfolding.
“It was just something I decided would be good for me,” Sweeting said. “Kerri is obviously a good shooter, a good player, had a really great season and a great run at the Scotties. I just threw my name out there with her.
“She had already been chatting with Shannon and Briane. I wasn’t quite sure how that would fit together and if it would be something they’d be interested it. They chatted and it all worked out. I’m excited for the opportunity to learn a new position and the opportunity to play with the girls.”
While one may think having four skips would be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, Einarson believes everyone is ready to accept their new roles and perform their best for the greater good of the whole team.
“I know Briane. She’s a really good touch player so I definitely found that lead would suit her best,” Einarson explained. “Her draw-weight game is big and that’s what you need at lead. For Shannon at second, she’s a great hitter. Also, it’s five-rock rule and she does have a great touch game as well. Val, she’s an all-around amazing player. She was wanting to play more of a supportive role. She thought that maybe stepping down and playing third for me would work well. I feel her and I are pretty laid-back, we’re pretty relaxed out there and we would for sure be a great back-end team.”
Sweeting, who will stay in Edmonton as an out-of-province player, added it’ll be a learning experience for everyone, not just herself and they’ll all be in it together.
“We’ll understand the position that each other is in and we’re committed to working really hard at it,” Sweeting said. “That’s what you can hope for and no matter what position you’ve played or are going to be playing you have to work hard as a team. We’re all committed to doing that. Four skips, you never know, but we have the right process. We just have to work hard and put it into practice. We’re all committed to doing this so I think it’s going to be good.”
Einarson will finish out the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season with her current team, who have opted to stick together and are searching for a new skip.
“When I had phoned and talked to my other team I just said, ‘Ladies, let’s go out into our last two events, have some fun, make some money and do the best that we can do,’” Einarson said. “We all agreed to do that.”
It’s been quite the see-saw cycle for Team Einarson. They broke out in 2015-16 capturing the inaugural Tour Challenge Tier 2 title to enter the elite rankings and won the Manitoba Scotties to reach nationals. Although they scored the Boost National championship the following season, it wasn’t enough to counter mediocre performances elsewhere on tour and they slipped down the standings.
Winning their second Tour Challenge Tier 2 trophy at this start of this season earned them another promotion and they followed that up with a runner-up finish at the Masters. Heartbreaking losses at the Olympic pre-trials and Manitoba Scotties looked to send them into a downturn but they rebounded defeating Chelsea Carey’s Calgary crew to become the first wild-card team at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and take the silver medal.
“We definitely had a lot of ups and downs and a lot of good times as well,” Einarson said. “Having this season was huge for us. We started off great, in the middle we weren’t our best and then we finished off pretty strong. I’m really proud of myself and the girls for having such a great run together.”