Bubble be gone … Scotties bringing in fans, much to curlers' delight

This year’s national championship ‘feels new and exciting’ compared to 2021 COVID curling at WinSport

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Welcome to WinSport …

Population: plenty.

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That is … plenty more than the number of supporters watching at WinSport during the 2021 curling bubble.

Remember that casualty of COVID?

Cardboard cut-outs instead of fans in the stands at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts?

“It’s so nice,” said Team Canada skip Kerri Einarson of this year’s Scotties — on now through next Sunday at the people-populated WinSport Event Centre. “Instead of seeing cardboard cut-outs and hearing a toilet flush, we’re hearing the fans.

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“It’s incredible, and we can feel them out there with us.”

Not like three years ago, when it was a strange Scotties — the first of four-straight curling events pushed inside a safety zone to protect players from the pandemic but allowing them to entertain with a live sporting event only to be watched via television or other streaming device.

“Totally different this time,” said Jocelyn Peterman, the second for Kaitlyn Lawes’ Manitoba squad. “Obviously, we were in and out of the bubble quite a few times with the Scotties, mixed doubles nationals and then the two grand slams. So it was a lot of isolating and it was silent in here.

“Even though I’m from Red Deer, we didn’t have any family in here last time … so really enjoying having atmosphere in the building this year.”

The buzz is it’ll be that way right through the 10 days of the tournament.

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These Scotties are expected to draw enough to fill the 2,940-seat building most every draw — 18 total through to Friday’s start of the playoffs.

“Real people — no floating heads this time,” said Alberta’s second Dezaray Hawes, who was here in the bubble playing second for B.C.’s Corryn Brown. “We had a few (cardboard cut-out) family members in the stands, which was fun — and a little strange. But it was nice that Curling Canada did that to make it feel like you had supporters here for you.”

It wasn’t just no fans in the stands that made for strange days in 2021.

The athletes were met with all sorts of obstacles in putting on a show for Canadians and chasing the women’s team curling championship.

Constant COVID testing.

Isolation at the hotel.

And little interaction with anyone off the ice.

“Pulling into the hotel and the arena brought back a lot of memories,” said Hawes, one of a few Scotties participants now living in Calgary. “It was obviously a very different feeling that being in the bubble — we couldn’t really leave our rooms for a while, and there was lots of testing. So it’s nice to enjoy this with our teammates — being able to move around — and with our family and friends.”

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Every curler here is feeling that way.

“We’re actually able to hang out as a team in between games, which we couldn’t when we were in the bubble,” Brown said. “It was quite isolating, and it was challenging. You were stuck in your room a lot. Your oasis was being able to come to the arena to curl.

“So it’s definitely a bit of change from that. We’re excited this year to be able to spend time together and play some games in our rooms and spend time with our families.”

Cheryl Bernard COVID testing for the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts
FILE PHOTO: Curler and TSN analyst Cheryl Bernard begins her regimen of COVID-19 testing as the bubble begins for the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which was played at WinSport from Feb. 19-28, 2021.

Indeed, they don’t have to sit in their suites alone.

And they can eat together, talk with one another and strategize together in trying to pull out national glory.

“It just feels new and exciting,” Peterman said. “Even walking into the locker rooms, it was like, ‘Oh, there’s locker rooms here,’ because we were never able to go in them.”

“We’re able to take in more of the experience, which is awesome,” continued Brown. “Because you definitely never know when you’re going to get back here, so you want to take it all in while you can.”

The athletes can even take in the Original 16 Patch — the party place during these Scotties.

That wasn’t a thing back in 2021 for anybody.

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“Very different from the last time we were here,” added Lawes. “I will say that when we were packing up and getting ready to come here, I kept saying that we were going to the bubble. And the girls kept saying, ‘No … we’re going to the Scotties.’ So I have to try and erase that from my mind a little bit.

“Excited to have fans instead of cardboard cut-outs. You could hear a pin drop in here last time. We want a loud, energetic building. The louder the better.”

EXTRA ENDS

The 18-game round-robin win streak for Team Canada is over at the Scotties. That after Alberta’s Selena Sturmay came along Sunday afternoon and upset Kerri Einarson & Co. 8-6, thanks mostly to counting four in the third end. That moves host Alberta to 3-0 atop Pool A action, in which Saskatchewan’s Skylar Ackerman is also 3-0 after upending Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville 6-5 … In Pool B, Jennifer Jones’ Manitoba crew and Rachel Homan’s Ontario side went into Sunday night’s draw unbeaten through two games, after defeating Yukon’s Bayly Scoffin and Ontario’s Danielle Inglis 14-4 and 11-4 respectively during the morning draw Sunday … Sunday was Sandra Schmirler Day at the Scotties. That meant the drive was on with the 22nd annual telethon to try and secure $1 million worth of donations from the public to help ‘save the lives of babies born too soon, too small or too sick’ — the motto of the Sandra Schmirler Foundation, which raises funds to purchase life-saving equipment for premature and critically ill babies in Canada. To donate, call 1-866-210-6011 or visit www.sandraschmirler.org … Monday begins with Draw 7 at 8:30 a.m. followed by Draws 8 and 9 at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. respectively. All draws are on TSN.

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X: @ToddSaelhofPM

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