North Bay, ON – When teams from different countries started qualifying for the 2018 Ford World Women’s Curling Championship, it is fair to assume that many, if not most, of the players and coaches had to google “North Bay” to find out where the host city was located. After all, North Bay does not host a regular event on the World Curling Tour and had never hosted a curling event of this magnitude. That being said, the host city quickly became a place that none of the players or coaches will ever forget.

For those watching online or on television, the 2018 Ford World Women’s Curling Championship will forever be remembered as the event where Jennifer Jones and her team won their second world championship and where Jill Officer was celebrated, having announced that she will be stepping away from full-time curling at the end of the season. For those of us in the building, what will stick in our memories more than anything was the crowd in North Bay who set a record for the highest total attendance ever at a Women’s Worlds held in Canada. The players from each team could not say enough about the reception they received in North Bay and, in the media scrum following the final against Sweden, Jill Officer stated that:

“How can we not enjoy this in North Bay…the crowd was amazing…I would come back here to play anything, it was so awesome”.

As you might expect, the crowd was electric each time that Team Canada stepped on the ice and it certainly helped that Team Jones went undefeated. In fact, the building felt like it was shaking when Jennifer Jones made a raise for two points with her last rock of the 9th end of Sunday’s final to give her team a 6-4 lead. What was even more impressive for those of us covering the event was the size of the crowd when Canada was not even playing. Whether it was the fans supporting Korea’s “Garlic Girls”, the American cheering section supporting Team Sinclair or the members of the local Italian community supporting Diana Gaspari and her team from  Cortina d’Ampezzo, each team seemed to have their own little section of the crowd.  However, it was Anna Kubeskova and her team from the Czech Republic that the North Bay crowd seemed to adopt as their second favourite team during the week. The “mutual admiration” between Team Kubeskova and curling fans of the area started when the Czech team practiced at the Nosbonsing Curling Club in nearby Astorville prior to the Women’s Worlds.

“There were more people watching us practice at this club then there was at our national championship in the Czech Republic…” Kubeskova noted following their practice at Nosbonsing.

Jennifer Jones and her team were obviously the crowd favourites at the 2018 Women’s Worlds, receiving huge ovations whether it was coming out for warm-ups, during pre-game introductions and especially after a well-made shot. What Team Jones showed most during the week was their ability to rise to the occasion and make key shots when they were needed. To be fair, the team from Winnipeg didn’t always have their “A” game available to them in North Bay but still figured a way to grind out victories which has been a staple of Team Jones for years.

Aside from Canada’s victory and the wonderful support given to the event by the people of North Bay, there was no shortage of interesting stories at the 2018 Women’s Worlds.

Let’s start with the 2018 Olympic gold medalists from Sweden, Team Hasselborg. Less than a month following a victory that changed their lives, the members of Team Hasselborg arrived in North Bay a little tired and admittedly had some difficulty in finding their usual energy early in the week.

“I can feel in my body that I’m tired and I’m having difficulty finding those positive nerves so that I can get my pulse up and get some good energy going” Swedish 3rd Sara McManus said late in the round-robin.

All Team Hasselborg did at the 2018 Women’s Worlds was go undefeated except for their two games against Canada and a loss against Scotland that came after the Swedes had already secured a direct spot into the semi-finals. Team Hasselborg proved once again that they are one of the very best teams in the world and should be in the mix at world championships for years to come.

“I’m so proud of my team” Hasselborg said following the final, “we battled through this week and we played some of our best curling today in the final. Today Canada was better, it sucks to not win but I’m still proud”.

For their part, Russia’s Team Moiseeva was coming off a disappointing result at the Olympic Games where they finished 2-7. The 2016 European Champions arrived in North Bay hoping to earn some redemption for their performance in Pyeongchang and also hoped to continue Russia’s streak of podium finishes at the Women’s Worlds which stood at four. Interestingly, the skip of the team that won each of those four medals at the Women’s Worlds, Anna Sidorova, served as the alternate for Team Russia in North Bay. The Russians were streaky all week but managed to qualify for the playoffs where they defeated the Czech Republic in the quarter-final before losing to Sweden in the semi-final. Russia defeated the United States 6-5 to win the bronze medal in a game that was worthy of what was at stake.

“I don’t have enough English words to explain how much it means to win a bronze medal at the World Championship” Russian skip Victoria Moiseeva said following the game, “…we were not playing our best at the Olympics but it was a new life for us when we arrived here”.

One of the revelations of the 2018 Women’s Worlds was Team USA skipped by Jamie Sinclair who was born in Alaska while her father, a pilot in the Canadian military, was stationed there and has dual citizenship. Sinclair may have Canadian roots but she certainly represented the United States admirably at the 2018 Women’s Worlds. Team USA was a bit inconsistent during the round-robin but managed to sneak into the playoffs where they defeated the reigning Olympic silver medalists from Korea in the quarter-finals before losing to Canada in the semi-finals. If this team takes that next step and progresses into a top ten team in the world, they might look at the semi-final against Canada as a turning point as they fought back from an early 5-1 deficit to tie the game 7-7 coming home. Canada ultimately won the game but the grit and determination showed by Team Sinclair and their willingness to change their tactics in the middle of such an important game showed a maturity beyond their years.

“In one of our end meetings we decided that if we were going to go down, we were going to go down in flames” Sinclair said after the semi-final, “…we had to generate as much offense as we could, understanding that we might give up a big end but it was the only real way we could get back in the game”.

The U.S. went on to lose the bronze medal game to Russia but Sinclair maintained that she was incredibly proud of the way her team performed.

“Things didn’t go our way today but I am super proud of our team, we’ve come a long way in two years” Sinclair said, “…this was a learning experience for us as we’ve never played in this type of atmosphere, on this stage and at this level before.”

When covering an event such as the 2018 Ford World Women’s Curling Championship you often get the opportunity to see and hear things that curling fans watching on TV or online might not see or hear. Following are 9 things that I’ll remember about last week in North Bay:

1. During the morning draw each day, there were school groups that took in some of the action at Memorial Gardens. On Thursday morning, while Canada was playing Russia, the students in the crowd were so loud as they cheered for Team Canada that players on other sheets would turn to look and smile at them, most having never curled in a venue that was so loud. The players on the ice that morning must have had “CA-NA-DA” ringing in their ears long after the draw was over.

2. While throwing her first-ever rock at a World Women’s Championship, Canadian alternate Shannon Birchard’s broom got caught in the ice, causing her to lose her balance and fall out of her delivery, an inauspicious start. However, a couple of days later, she came into a game and on her first rock, delivered a perfect double peel.

3. Camilla Jensen, the 3rd for Denmark certainly seemed to have fun during the week. Every time she was on the ice for pre-game warm-ups she would dance to the music like no one was watching. It was nice to see someone enjoying themselves despite the importance of the event.

4. Early in the week I had the chance to chat with the parents of U.S. skip Jamie Sinclair for an end as they watched their daughter play one of her round-robin games. The Sinclairs were a mix of proud and nervous as they watched their daughter playing in the biggest international competition of her young career. I could hear it in their voices and I could see it in the way they shuffled in their seats when each of Team USA’s rocks made its way down the sheet.

5. Team Russia’s massage therapist is also an opera singer and he would sit in the top row of the arena, waving the Russian flag and singing out cheers in both Russian and English and thanking the people that joined in when he finished a chant or cheer.

6. After each game at major curling events, players from each team are made available for interviews with members of the media. Typically the interviews are done with members of the winning teams but there are times when players are asked to discuss difficult losses, especially during the playoffs. It is never easy for athletes that have just experienced a difficult loss to speak with media, especially in a sport like curling where post-game “media scrums” are not a regular occurrence. I especially want to recognize Anna Hasselborg (SWE), Jamie Sinclair (USA) and Anna Kubeskova (CZE) for being so forthcoming following difficult losses during the playoffs in North Bay.

7. Win or lose, members of each team took time to sign autographs, take selfies or share “high-fives” with fans young and old after games. Among the more popular athletes…Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes and the three Annas – Hasselborg, Sidorova and Kubeskova. In a cute post-game moment, Canada’s Shannon Birchard gave a young girl a broom pad signed by each member of Team Canada, the young girl burst into happy tears and Birchard, new to such situations, had a somewhat perplexed look on her face not quite knowing what to say or do.

8. 2016 Scotties champion Chelsea Carey wrote a few articles for the “Eye Opener”, the daily publication that was produced during the 2018 Women’s Worlds. In one of her articles Carey spoke of the delicate balance that curlers face when dealing with members of the media, pointing out that elite curlers are often criticized for providing “scripted” or “canned” responses but are also criticized if they provide responses that are too honest. From my perspective, I enjoy those moments of honesty from curlers and I like sharing them in a proper context. Moments after losing the semi-final at the Women’s Worlds, U.S. skip Jamie Sinclair was asked what she was doing next and her response was not the scripted “I’m going to go home to rest a little and then the team will get together to prepare for the Players Championship”. Sinclair’s response to the question was “…I’m going to the Patch” where I hope she enjoyed one or more well-deserved beverages after the effort put in by her and Team USA throughout the week in North Bay.
Following her team’s last round-robin game I asked Irene Schori of Switzerland, whose team had won the last two Women’s Worlds hosted in Canada, what had been different this year. Her response, “…we didn’t read the ice well, we didn’t match the rocks well and you know, sometimes sh*t just happens”. It was not said angrily, it was an honest assessment of what had been a difficult week at the end of a difficult season for the two-time world champions.
When asked how she felt after her team lost their round-robin game against Canada, Swedish skip Anna Hasselborg could have gone with a scripted response such as, “…we simply did not play as well as we would have liked this evening but we are still near the top of the standings and we’ll come back stronger tomorrow”. Her answer to the question of how she felt after her team’s loss to Canada, “…I’m pissed”. It was an honest response from a fiery competitor who, it is safe to assume, quietly wanted to pour a little cold water on Team Canada’s North Bay party. There is nothing wrong with that and there was nothing wrong with Hasselborg being pissed that her team came out flat against Canada in the round-robin.

9. What I’ll remember more than anything else about the 2018 Ford World Women’s Curling Championship in North Bay are the crowds. For practically making the building vibrate when Jones made that shot in the 9th end of the final. For showing up three times a day for the whole week, even for those morning draws when Canada was not playing. For cheering good shots made by each team, even if those shots came against the team with the maple leaf on its back. For giving every single player a reason to say how much they enjoyed their week. Well done, North Bay…well done!

From the Hack will be back with a regular podcast next week!

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Some words about the 2018 World Women’s Championship in North Bay