Teenage Quebec team impresses at Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Quebec skip Emilia Gagne, middle, shares a laugh with her team as they play Alberta at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton, B.C., on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

PENTICTON, B.C. — Emilia Gagne never thought she would play in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Yet there was the Team Quebec skip leading her junior team to a 3-4 record in their first Canadian women’s curling championship, finishing sixth in Pool B. And all before she or any of her teammates turn 20.

"I’m just very excited because it is a big experience," said lead Chloe Arnaud, 19, a human sciences student at College d’Alma. "We watch the Scotties on the TV and it’s a dream to play with this team."

They entered the national championships as upstarts that had surprised in their provincial tournament. Facing their Quebec idols, the 18-year-old Gagne said they were a bit intimidated by the opposition. They finished 4-3 in round-robin pitting them in a tiebreaker against Roxanne Perron and winning 8-4 to advance to the semifinal against host club Marie-France Larouche. They prevailed 8-7 by scoring a deuce in the final end. They then faced former Quebec champion Eve Belisle, who has competed in three Scotties. Gagne stole the extra end to win 7-6.

Gagne said a team meeting led to their success. They talked about not focusing on who they were playing, but the game itself.

"We’re just playing against the rocks," she said.

They maintained that mentality at the Scotties. They didn’t focus on names such as Alberta’s Casey Scheidegger or Team Canada’s Michelle Englot.

"To win we have to make the shots," said Gagne, who idolizes five-time national champion and Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Jones of Manitoba because of how she acts on the ice and with her teammates. "Yeah, we played against great teams, great player."

Second Marie-Pier Harvey, with the help of Gagne as a translator, said playing in the women’s national curling championship has been really good because it can make them better for next season and the future.

"To play against the best, that’s how you become the best," said Harvey, a 17-year-old nursing student at College d’Alma.

Being the least experienced team in the tournament, Quebec focused on keeping scores tight to put pressure on their opponents. Their only other lopsided loss was 10-4 to B.C. They defeated Nunavut 9-2, lost to Canada 6-5, Ontario 7-5 and picked up wins against Prince Edward Island 8-6 and Newfoundland and Labrador 9-7. Their next match is a placement game against Saskatchewan.

"This week we were here to get experience, so when we come back, we will have higher expectations," said Gagne.

The Quebecois rink learned about the importance of physical preparation to get through the lengthy Tournament of Hearts and avoid fatigue or mental exhaustion.

Scheidegger believes fans will see this team again because they are loaded with potential.

"I don’t think this is the last time we will see them at the Scotties," she said. "We joked before the game, ‘They will be here lots more. We might only be here once so they can give us one."’

What makes the teenage group special to Scheidegger is their chemistry. She has seen them work well together with positive energy.

"They bring a lot of energy. There is a couple of things here and there that they can work on," said Scheidegger, noting that Gagne and her teammates are always high-fiving each other and wear smiles after each game.

Joel Gagne, Emilia’s father, was impressed with their determination. He feels they proved they can play with other Scotties teams.

"We need to be very proud of what we have done," said the younger Gagne, adding that having three wins is even better than what they expected.

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