Alaskan Sports

Curling bubble plans give some groups hope whereas others disappoint – Alaska Freeway Information

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The fields are slowly filling up for the national curling championships, events that caused a stir in a bleak competitive season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The positive attitude of some hair curlers is frustrating for others as everyone involved – from athletes to member associations to the national federation – tries to overcome the various hurdles along the way.

It is up to the 14 provincial and territorial federations across the country to decide on representation for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts from February 20-28 and the Tim Hortons Brier from March 6-14.

Some schedule traditional playdowns to determine entries. Others have canceled their championships and used last year's results. Some associations used out-of-the-box ideas to make decisions.

Six-time Scotties champion Colleen Jones stayed outside after the Nova Scotia Curling Association made its decision this week.

"I understand the pickle that all the bandages were in," said Jones. "But now that most of them haven't been able to win a provincial championship, it's hard – what is it called credibility or something – to put in the actual Scotties and Brier aside from being a revenue generating and television event.

"It's more like The Hunger Games now, where everyone comes in and plays in that bubble and we'll see who the winner is."

The curling tradition was avoided in this unique campaign. The usual seasonal flow of ticket games and qualifiers has been completely changed.

In a domestic structure that prides itself on giving every curling team the opportunity to reach the sport's greatest heights each year, the changes have been a blow to many ice rinks.

"It's what, in a way, drives the game, everything that happens at the provincial level," said Jones. "It's one of the few sports where you can still hold onto the dream."

The Scotties and Brier are held in what is called a bubble at the Markin MacPhail Center in Calgary. A total of six events will take place there until the end of April.

Jones feels for the hundreds of curlers who haven't had a chance to compete this season and applauds those who are doing their best to save some sort of campaign.

But with so many national teams returning, she said it felt like a "take 2" last year.

"That in itself is just weird because it goes against the spirit and tradition of what Brier and Scotties are about," she said. "In trying to hold an event, I think there are a lot of hair curlers across the country who wanted to play (down) and believe in this aspect of the sport so that it didn't happen to (them) as it seems now" ; I'm just trying too hard to make an event.

"We're going to call it Scotties and Brier, even though it only smells like last Friday's dinner. It really feels like leftovers now."

In Nova Scotia, Jones reached the 2020 championship final but lost to Mary-Anne Arsenault, who went to B.C. changed. last year.

Arsenault's previous team, now skipped by Christina Black, has been ruled out as a possible provincial representative this year as it has two returning members instead of the required three. The players were interested in a one-time reunion, but the association did not allow it.

"I understand they have to sort of select a team," said Black. "Everyone is in a strange and difficult situation."

Unlike Manitoba and Northern Ontario, which used provincial finalists as substitutes for representation, Nova Scotia decided to prioritize this season's limited results instead.

As a result, money list manager Jill Brothers was invited to take the place of women. Your team is expected to announce its decision by Wednesday.

Nova Scotia's reigning masters will return, but Jamie Murphy won't skip the trip. There is still no word on his replacement.

Despite countless challenges due to the pandemic, some provinces and territories are still sticking to plans to hold championships in the coming weeks.

In the east, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador have playdowns scheduled for the end of the month.

Jumps Lori Eddy and Peter Mackey Nunavut are represented in the territories, and Dustin Mikkelsen was awarded for the Yukon Men's Place. A playoff for women with two teams begins on Friday.

The Northwest Territories championships are also due at the end of the month. Veterans jump Jamie Koe pulled back on Tuesday, citing concerns about possible sanctions and suspensions in the event a team was forced to exit after qualifying.

Ontario, Northern Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia have canceled their playdowns, declaring representatives based on last year's Provincials.

These include John Epping and Rachel Homan (Ontario), Brad Jacobs and Krysta Burns (Northern Ontario), Jason Gunnlaugson and Jennifer Jones (Manitoba), and Corryn Brown and Steve Laycock (British Columbia).

Team Canada contributions are Brad Gushue (Brier) and Kerri Einarson (Scotties).

In Alberta the championships were canceled, but no decision on team representatives was made. Laura Walker and Brendan Bottcher are reigning champions, but Kevin Koe did not participate last year as he had an automatic Brier entry as Team Canada.

Quebec's entries could be named by the end of the week. The provincial association sent top 3 lists to Curling Canada and a specialized committee will make a decision.

"I'm sorry for all the teams that are on the verge of winning provincial championships that have put the time and effort into being taken away while we are making the rules – seems sad," said Jones.

In Saskatchewan, the women's playdowns run January 28-31, and the men's competition runs February 4-7. In the event of a cancellation, an interesting decision awaits, as the reigning women's winner Robyn Silvernagle only has two returning players.

The Scotties and Brier formats have yet to be finalized. Play-in games were canceled, but wildcard teams could be added and the usual field size of 16 teams adjusted.

"Every hair curler out there, they're all smart people, they understand it's a pandemic and they understand the limits," said Jones.

"But the fact that the Canadians (championships) are allowed to go on according to these rules in this bubble, who has to go, is likely to be a bit of a dagger in the heart of many people."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 12, 2021.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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