SYDNEY, N.S. — Jen Gates was happy to hear the sweet screeching sound of the Northern Ontario moose call once again.
It had been a while as Gates spent the past six seasons playing out of Edmonton, but made the return home to Sudbury this past season joining Krista McCarville’s team as their alternate. When second Ashley Sippala went on maternity leave mid-season, Gates took over at the front-end position and helped the Thunder Bay-based club win their playdowns to reach the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
The 28-year-old supported her older sister Amanda Gates and Northern Ontario in the past at the Canadian women’s curling championship, moose call and all, and she’s actually enjoying the noise that can only be described as Chewbacca having problems.
“It’s a really distinct sound,” she said with a laugh. “We know if people are making that moose call that they’re cheering for us, so at least we know we have fans.”
Representing Northern Ontario for the first time in her career at the Scotties with McCarville is something Gates said she’s really grateful for.
“It means a lot to me to get this chance,” she said. “I’m just really trying to play my best and do what I can to be a really good teammate. The girls are making it really easy for me and the coaches and everything. It’s a really good opportunity, so I’m just trying to make the most out of it.”
Gates is no stranger to the squad, especially since she and third Kendra Lilly were teammates in juniors and they’ve rekindled their good times together, too.
“We had lots of fun times over our junior years and playing with her just seems like that’s where I’m meant to be,” Gates said. “We’re having a lot of fun together and we seem to work really well, all four of us, but Kendra and I have that special friendship.”
Gates also has a connection to Manitoba’s alternate at this event, Taylor McDonald, as the two played together for the past four seasons, first with skip Chelsea Carey for a year followed by three with Kelsey Rocque at the helm.
“I’m really, really happy for her that she got asked to be fifth,” Gates said. “I think it’s a great pickup for them and she was actually able to play a game yesterday. I was kind of looking out of the corner of my eye and cheering my friend on. We’re still really close.
“It was really great seeing her. I haven’t seen her in almost a year, so it’s nice. I have a lot of good friends here and we’re having some fun.”
Kreviazuk comes off the bench (again) for Ontario
While Gates had already worked her way into Northern Ontario’s lineup, Ontario’s alternate Cheryl Kreviazuk has been a surprise pinch-hitter at second this week for skip Rachel Homan’s squad.
So far, so good as Kreviazuk maintained her perfect record coming off of the bench mid-game improving to 3-0 following Ontario’s crucial 8-6 victory Wednesday afternoon over B.C. that put them into the Championship Round.
Although Ontario is undefeated when Kreviazuk is in the lineup, it was actually a bounce-back victory for Team Homan after dropping two straight Tuesday.
“It’s awesome,” said Kreviazuk, who has been subbing in for second Joanne Courtney. “It was the third game they put me in and any game from now on is a bonus. They’re happy to have me out there and I’m very happy to go in. It warms me up a little bit, a little chilly on the bench, but no, I’m thrilled to play.”
Kreviazuk throws second stones on tour for Toronto’s Hollie Duncan and represented Ontario at the Scotties last year, but has also been Homan’s go-to fifth in the past. Her workload has increased this time though as Courtney is expecting a baby.
“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.”
If you were wondering why Courtney wasn’t sitting on the bench during the second half of the game, have no fear as she’s just all right.
“There’s no point sitting on the bench getting cold and getting stiff,” Kreviazuk said. “So coach (Marcel Rocque) just told her to go stretch and go rest. … She’s feeling good.
“We’re just giving her some well-deserved rest. A couple of really strong sweeps, she deserved some rest.”
Officer returns to familiar spot with Jones
Continuing with our alternate theme, Team Canada’s Jill Officer was back to her familiar confines at the second position for one game.
Officer was Jennifer Jones’s longtime second — winning six Scotties titles, two world championships and an Olympic gold medal — before stepping back from competitive curling last year. Jocelyn Peterman, who previously played with Carey and captured the Canadian title in 2016, made the move over from Alberta to Manitoba this season with big Goldline shoes to fill.
The 43-year-old Officer, who stayed on board as the team’s fifth, jumped in for lead Dawn McEwen during Tuesday’s game and made a spot start at second for Wednesday morning’s 8-4 win over Newfoundland and Labrador.
Coach Viktor Kjell said it was something the team had talked about and they decided to make the switch for that game.
“It’s good for Jill to get some playing time as well,” Kjell said. “It’s a long week so it’s nice for some of the players, especially the front end, to get a bit of a break. Yesterday we made a change, Dawn came off, so we just felt like today was a good time for it.”
“I would say the last couple of games they’ve been playing a lot better,” he added. “It’s just nice for Jill to get some ice time as well because we go on for evening practice every day but it’s nice to play a real game.”
Kjell and Officer have been working overtime hitting the ice late at night for practice gathering as much intel on the rocks and the ice as they can for Team Canada.
“It gets pretty late at night, it’ll be almost midnight before you get back to the hotel,” Kjell said. “It’s a long week that way but it’s important to try and get as much information as we can in the evenings from the evening practice.”
Peterman was back at second for the evening draw against Team Wild Card.
Tiebreaker set for Thursday morning
Northern Ontario avoided falling into a tiebreaker with the 7-5 extra-end victory over Manitoba in the afternoon draw.
Team McCarville wrapped up Pool A play with a 5-2 record to advance to the Championship Pool while Manitoba dropped to 4-3 and will have to play a do-or-die extra game Thursday morning against B.C.
The winner of the Manitoba-B.C. matchup will have little rest to get ready for the Championship Pool having to go back-to-back-to-back draws as the Scotties marathon quickly turns into a two-day sprint to the weekend Page playoffs.
“We know we have a long road ahead, so to avoid a three-game day was pretty big and just to kind of keep building and keep improving each game was really important,” Gates said. “We’re really happy with where we are.”
Ontario also went 5-2 to advance while Carey and Team Alberta were already all clear and finished things off by running at 7-0 punting winless Quebec 12-3.
“It’s nice to kind of get a little bit of extra rest,” Kreviazuk said. “Two games one day and one game the next day, it’s a phenomenal schedule and it helps to keep the girls ready for the next game, so I feel the schedule has been great. I’m really glad we don’t get that extra game thrown in there.”
Meanwhile, Pool B was clean with no tiebreakers needed following the evening draw.
Team Wild Card, skipped by Casey Scheidegger, topped the table at 6-1 with a 7-4 win over Team Canada, who also advanced as the No. 4 spot with a 4-3 record.
Team Saskatchewan, skipped by Robyn Silvernagle, edged out Suzanne Birt and P.E.I. 7-3. Both advanced with identical 5-2 records.
The field has been cut in half from 16 down to eight. Northwest Territories and New Brunswick (both 3-4) plus Newfoundland and Labrador and Yukon (both 1-6) were all ousted from Pool B while Nova Scotia (2-5), Nunavut (1-6) and Quebec (0-7) head home early from Pool A.