There’s an old saying in sports, and in life, that it is about the journey, not the destination.  For the 16 teams that participated in the 2019 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the destination was the same but the journeys both before, and during, the Scotties could not have been more different…

For Team Scheidegger of Alberta, the journey started with frustration as bad weather and cancelled flights led them on a 60-hour odyssey from Lethbridge to Sydney to play in the Wild Card game after losing the A, B, and C Flight finals at their provincials, failing to reach the playoffs. What could have been one of the longest and most frustrating three-day trips of their career was salvaged when Team Scheidegger came up big in the Wild Card game and earned their way into the main draw.  “Team Orange Crush” played well, qualified for the Championship Round but, for the second year in a row, a 7-4 record was not quite good enough to get them into the playoffs.  Some day this team will play very deep into a Scotties playoff weekend, it just did not happen to be this year.

For Team Lavoie of Québec, the journey was about gaining experience and learning from some of the best in the world.  This young junior team may have left Sydney without a victory but, having never played a top 30 team in the world when they arrived at the Scotties, they left Sydney having shared the ice with McCarville, Fleury, Homan and Carey… a real life “Master Class” in curling if there ever was one.

For Team Sharpe of Newfoundland & Labrador and Team Baldwin of Yukon the journey was filled with many bumps in the road but, in the end, they both earned a Scotties victory and will go home having provided inspiration to young curlers in their province and territory.

For Team Bodner of Nunavut, the journey became a historic one as they defeated Québec to earn Nunavut’s first-ever main draw victory at a Scotties.  Years from now, no one will remember that they went 1-6, all they will remember is that photo of the team standing next to the scoreboard after that one, historic win.

For Andrea Crawford of New Brunswick, the journey to Sydney took a bit of a detour. After being stationed in Germany, and playing in a few events there, Crawford made her first Scotties appearance since 2014.  For Team Crawford, the journey ended in the round-robin but in included a victory over the reigning Canadian and World champions and it included a wild 13-12 loss to Prince Edward Island that earned a place in the record books as the highest scoring game in Scotties history.

Sometimes the journey ends abruptly the way it did for the Northwest Territories when they lost their last round-robin game and were eliminated after such a promising 3-1 start to the week.  The good news for Team Galusha is that they are a team on the rise, a team that has tasted success on the World Curling Tour and a team that now has an eye at not only returning to the Scotties next year but also on qualifying for the Pre-Trials in 2021.

The Scotties journey can take your breath away or, in the case Nova Scotia’s Jill Brothers, it can take your voice away.  As the “home” team in Sydney, Team Brothers was hoping to thank their vocal supporters with an appearance in the Championship Round.  Unfortunately, skip Jill Brothers lost her voice early in the week and the team never really recovered as the collective voices of the home crowd could not carry Team Brothers into the second half of the week.

The journey from Manitoba to the Scotties is arguably the toughest one in the country.  Team Fleury had to overcome a field that included seven of the top 50 teams in the world to simply earn their ticket to Sydney.  Team Fleury started slowly but put on a late charge that seemed destined to take them into the Championship Round only to run into a “rocky” patch in the tiebreaker, a disappointing outcome for four players that had all reached the playoffs at last year’s Scotties.

For most curlers, the Scotties journey and the people that help you on that journey, is what makes it so special.  Our collective introduction to Sarah Wark came when her team defeated Manitoba on national TV on the first Sunday of the Scotties.  However, the first glimpse into Sarah Wark’s journey came in a media scrum following BC’s first game when an emotional Wark described her excitement at receiving her Scotties pendant and had to fight back tears when sharing how happy she was that her Dad could be in the crowd to watch her realize her childhood dream of playing in the Scotties.  It was an authentic moment that showed just how much the Scotties still means to players from around the country.

BC skip Sarah Wark discusses playing in the Scotties for the first time.

Not only was Sarah Wark one of the more quotable athletes at the Scotties this year but she led her team to a surprise appearance in the Championship Round by making what seemed to be every shot her team needed her to make either to win a game or to keep them in a game.  Team Wark did an excellent job of creating some excitement at the Scotties for a province that had fallen on lean times over the past few years.

Some players need to step away from curling for a while to realize just how much they would miss the journey on which the sport can take you.  Suzanne Birt returned to the Scotties after taking some time way from the sport and she came back with a bang.  Not only did Team Birt of PEI qualify for the Championship Round but they did  so by out-scoring their opposition in “Gretzky-like” fashion, scoring in double figures in four of their games and setting Scotties records for most points by one team in a game (15 vs NWT) and most points by two teams in a game (25 in a 13-12 win over New Brunswick).  Their unexpected run made them the fan favourites in the Championship Round in Sydney and it also introduced a whole new generation of curling fans to how good a player Suzanne Birt can be.

For some teams, the journey is built around the destination.  Team McCarville of Northern Ontario makes no secret that the Scotties is their main objective each season.  To the untrained eye the 53rd ranked team in the world should not be much of a threat in a field as deep as the Scotties but the other teams in the field, they know better.  Team McCarville has top-ten talent they just have other priorities, don’t play very much on tour and make the Scotties the focus of their schedule but once they arrive at the national championship, they rarely disappoint.  Team McCarville has now qualified for the playoffs in their last three trips to the Scotties and it took a strong game from Team Homan of Ontario to knock them out in the 3 vs 4 game.

There are moments when the end of one team’s Scotties journey stops the curling world dead in their tracks.  After qualifying for the playoffs in her 13 previous Scotties appearances, Jennifer Jones and her team were eliminated from playoff contention before the final draw of the Championship Round was even played.  In a week where she was rightfully recognized as the best woman curler in Canadian history, Jones simply could not find her form.  The reigning Canadian and World champions simply could not recover from three losses in the round-robin that made their path to the playoffs much more difficult.   It was a week that might be bad news for the rest of the women’s teams in Canada as Team Jones will no doubt be more motivated than ever to return to the Scotties next year and get some redemption.

On occasion, the Scotties journey can be overwhelming.  Having lost the last two Saskatchewan finals on last rock Robyn Silvernagle, who grew up in the same town that gave us Sandra Schmirler, simply could not watch and turned her back when her opponent released the last shot of this year’s provincial final; a shot that would allow Team Silvernagle to continue their journey to the Scotties.  Once in Sydney, the journey continued to be overwhelming as Silvernagle looked completely out of sorts in the first few ends of her opening game of the Scotties against Team Canada, to the point where it was almost becoming uncomfortable to watch. A sign of a good team is their ability to navigate the obstacles that cross their path during their journey.  Team Silvernagle not only overcame their skip’s early nerves they went on to win 7 of their next 8 games to qualify for the 1 vs 2 game.  Team Silvernagle’s 2019 Scotties journey came to an end in the playoffs at the hands of the top-ranked team in the world but with what they showed during the week, there is no doubt that Robyn Silvernagle and her team should enjoy another Scotties journey soon.

The journey can sometimes be cruel.  In the year since their disappointing result as the 2018 Winter Olympics, Team Homan had basically done next to nothing wrong.  They renewed their commitment to their team and to the sport. They worked hard on improving the parts of their game that had let them down at important moments in the past. They won three Grand Slam titles and won the first-ever Curling World Cup event. They won their provincial championship while losing only one game that whole week. They arrived in Sydney as the top-ranked team in the world and favourites to earn their fourth Scotties title.  They played well all week in Sydney, except for one day where they lost their only two games of the round-robin.  They defeated Northern Ontario and Saskatchewan to reach their fourth Scotties final.  They took a 5-1 lead in the championship game while playing a controlled, methodical game that left their opponent with little chance to generate any offense. Then they watched as Alberta slowly started their march on what became the most epic and improbable comeback in recent history in a Scotties final.  The good news for Team Homan is that they are a resilient bunch and they realize that the Scotties is not the be all, end all.  Two members of the team, Rachel Homan and Joanne Courtney, are about to become mothers for the first time which will make curling wins and losses seem very much secondary. However, they will certainly look back at the 2019 Scotties final and wonder what many of us were wondering on Sunday evening… “WTF just happened”.

Which brings us to the Scotties journey of one Chelsea Carey.  Few modern players have shown the ability to bring their best game to the biggest stages as well as Chelsea Carey does.  Carey is now 41-11 for her career at the Scotties and has shown the resiliency of a champion throughout. Her journey has included several lineup changes, a disappointing finish at the 2016 World Championship and a crushing defeat in the 2017 Olympic Trials final after finishing the round-robin undefeated.

Chelsea Carey discusses her team’s victory at the 2019 Scotties

This was to be a year of transition for Team Carey with three new players joining Chelsea for this Olympic cycle. Sarah Wilkes was playing her first year as a third at the elite level and Rachel Brown would miss the first half of the season after giving birth to her first child.  The early season was filled with a few highs and a few lows, but it was at the provincial championships in Alberta that Team Carey offered a glimpse at what their Scotties journey might look like, going undefeated for the week and winning the championship final on a triple-takeout by their skip.

One sign of a great player is when they can generate key shots even when they don’t have their best stuff.  To be fair, Chelsea Carey did not have her best stuff in the championship final at the 2019 Scotties but what she did do was generate good shots at the right moments and it led to a comeback that Canadian curling fans will talk about for a generation.  Some will say that the 5-rock rule makes comebacks easier in today’s game and that certainly seems to be the case.  However, the comeback by Team Carey in the championship final had a lot more to do with her and third Sarah Wilkes finding a way to leave Team Homan with difficult shots on the last rock of each end.  Team Carey chipped away methodically at that lead, including steals in four of the final six ends, while continually forcing Rachel Homan to make tough shots under much pressure.

The result was a victory that even had Chelsea Carey looking shocked as she spoke to the media following the game. It was a second Scotties title for Carey and a first title for Sarah Wilkes, Dana Ferguson and Rachel Brown.

The journey now continues for each of the teams that travelled to Sydney…Team Carey will represent Canada at the World Championship in Denmark, a few other teams will travel to the season ending Grand Slam events, Homan, Courtney and Manitoba’s Liz Fyfe will soon be adding to their families and others will start planning their 2020 Scotties journey with the hard-earned knowledge of what it feels like to reach your destination!  We are already looking forward to Moose Jaw in 2020.

BEST GAME OF THE 2019 SCOTTIES

There were several worthy candidates but how can it not be the Scotties final.  It had good shots, it had bad misses, it had drama and it had a comeback for the ages.

BIGGEST REVELATION OF THE 2019 SCOTTIES

Sarah Wark…who knew?  I’m sure curling fans in BC knew all about her but she was a revelation to just about everyone else.  Her excitement at being at the Scotties, her charming post game interviews, her calm demeanor on the ice and her ability to make shot after shot when her team needed them made Sarah Wark one of the more unexpected and entertaining stories of this year’s Scotties.

BEST MOMENT OF THE 2019 SCOTTIES

I’ve been tough on Team Nunavut in the past, both at the Scotties and the Brier, even referring to their import players as “bucket list” curlers.  However, there was something genuine in their excitement following their win against Quebec which was Nunavut’s first-ever main draw victory at a Scotties. 

MOMENT THAT MADE US SMILE

Unless you were a fan of Team Homan, how can you not smile while watching Rachel Brown of Team Carey in the moments following her team’s victory in the final.  From her epic broom toss to her running down the sheet looking for someone to hug, to the photo of her and her four-month old baby posing with the Scotties championship trophy. Brown is an intense competitor, but she does it with a smile and an infectious laugh that can often be heard over the mics during games.

ALL-STAR TEAM   

The official all-star team at the Scotties is often comprised of the players that finish with the highest shooting percentage at each position.  I am taking a different approach by recognizing the players at each position that meant the most to their team during the 2019 Scotties:

Skip – Sarah Wark (BC)

Third – Stef Lawton (SK)

Second – Jen Gates (NO)

Lead – Rachel Brown (AB)

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The 2019 Scotties – What A Journey!