Laura Crocker looked around the women’s curling circuit and realized someone new had to start skipping around here.
When Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur disbanded their respective teams to join Kerri Einarson in different roles for next season, it left a bit of void in the skip department and Crocker figured she’d be the one to step up to the plate.
Crocker returns to the captain’s chair announcing her brand new Alberta squad Wednesday with third Nicole Sigvaldason, second Brittany Tran and lead Heather Rogers. The Calgary-based crew will be called Team Walker with Crocker set to tie the knot with Team Gushue lead Geoff Walker in the summer.
“My mind is always going as far as the thinking side of the game, the strategy, the ice-reading and all that,” Crocker said. “I’m always doing that anyway so that will be a really natural thing for me to continue to do. I really enjoy that side of the game that I think it’s my biggest strength.”
It shouldn’t take long for Crocker to adapt as she had success as a skip guiding the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks to back-to-back Canadian university championships in 2011 and 2012. She joined Chelsea Carey at third in 2014 and remained in that spot with Kelsey Rocque during the past three years. Although they made a midseason switch with Crocker calling the game, Rocque continued to throw fourth.
“I haven’t done it in a while but I have been throwing the last rock in mixed doubles and some pretty meaningful mixed doubles games so I have that experience as well under my belt,” said Crocker, who finished runner-up at the 2016 Canadian mixed doubles championship with Walker. “It’ll maybe take a bit of adjusting but I’ve done it before and I’m excited to try it again and see what happens. My team seems to really support me in this new role too, so that always helps when your team has confidence in you. That’ll really go a long way for me.”
Crocker contemplated taking a break from competitive curling before deciding she wanted to continue playing at the elite tier.
“I think most players would agree the Olympic cycle is a bit of a grind, you need to really want to do it and I’m just not the type of person to do something half-heartedly,” Crocker said. “I knew if I was going to play, I was going to play 100 percent, so I needed to make sure I had the want and the drive to do it at that level. Geoff and I are getting married in a couple of months and hopefully we’ll be starting a family sometime soon so there’s that to consider as well.
“I just wanted to take some time and make sure I was excited about whatever it was I was going to be doing and that was a really big thing to find people who I wanted to play with. These four years take a lot out of you. I took a step back, looked at it and realized deep down I did want to play as long as I could find the right fit. I didn’t want to give it up just yet.”
The “thinking time” on her decision was about as short as that in an actual match though as once the domino effect kicked in and everyone started racing to make moves for next season, Crocker didn’t want to be left scrambling.
“We have this weird break in the season and then we have a couple events in April but we have such a short off-season now that there’s just not enough time to do everything if we wait,” Crocker said. “Whoever made that first phone call then started the string of phone calls and it was bound to happen. If you weren’t getting on the train and making your moves now then you were going to get left behind. It’s the reality of the game these days.”
Once Crocker was in the free-agent game, she touched base with Birchard’s former third Sigvaldason.
“I knew they were a really good up-and-coming team and had young, really keen and dedicated players who had seen some success at a pretty young age so I figured I would reach out there and see what the plans were,” Crocker said. “Nicole was looking to keep playing and we were kind of in the same boat where if we were going to play we wanted to play with a team that would dedicate themselves to really getting better. We didn’t want to play just to play, so it was nice to have someone on the same page there.
“We got a really good vibe from each other right from the start. We don’t know each other that well but we really sensed something good there so we teamed up to play back end.”
Rogers, who had played with Nadine Scotland, and Tran, previously with Geri-Lynn Ramsay, were both looking to take their game to the next level and saw an opportunity with Crocker.
“To me, that’s the biggest thing in a new team is a willingness to work,” Crocker said. “No one has any idea how any of these teams are going to go but if we can start out with the same mindset, dedication and drive to do really well I think that’s all you can ask for and these three girls have that.”
Crocker, who is originally from Scarborough, Ont., acknowledged there will be some challenges living in Edmonton while Tran and Rogers are in Calgary and Sigvaldason stays in Winnipeg as an out-of-province curler. However, several other new teams also have new players far from home — including Team Fleury, Team Flaxey and the aforementioned Team Einarson — so they’re not the only ones who will be learning from the experience as they go.
“I think we’ll really dedicate ourselves to some individual practices on our own,” Crocker said. “We have a couple weekends planned already where we’ll be getting together as a foursome and use our time wisely whenever we are all together, be really efficient and work hard when the four of us are able to be together. We all have our own people that we work with as far as technical coaches in our own cities, so we can still continue to do that and communicate as much as we possibly can.”
Crocker is appreciative of her time with Rocque, second Taylor McDonald and lead Jen Gates noting how much they grew individually and as a unit during their formative years on tour. Team Rocque, ranked 11th on the World Curling Tour’s year-to-date standings, will aim to finish things off on a high note as they’re in the running for an invitation to the Players’ Championship next month in Toronto. A berth in the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup in Calgary is also a possibility.
“We’re all still going to be friends,” Crocker said. “We’ve learned a lot about each other and have come a long way as a team. I’m really grateful for them. Another thing I learned is how to get out of escape rooms. We had a lot of fun over the last few years, a ton of fun together. It’ll be totally different moving on now, a little bit sad, but I think we’re all excited for the new opportunities that each person has gotten as well. We’re excited for each other just as much as we’re excited for ourselves.”
Crocker also credits coach Lesley McEwan for helping Team Rocque over the past three seasons.
“She did so much for us and I think it says a lot to have a coach who sticks by your side,” Crocker said. “It’s really hard to find someone like that and just someone who makes the time for you and will be there for you. She was our rock every step of the way the last three years. We were really a team of five and I think all four of us are really grateful to have her involved as well.”