Canada’s reigning women’s curling champ practising on Lake Winnipeg
Kerri Einarson pushed out firmly from the hack on the new one-sheeter in Hnausa last weekend as snowmobilers skidded to a stop to watch her throw.
The skip of Canada’s reigning women’s curling championship team required neither a stopwatch nor the advice of a teammate to know the sheet on Lake Winnipeg near her folks’ place was running heavy.
An educated guess on the time from hog to hog?
“Oh, no idea. It was heavy,” Einarson said with a laugh earlier this week. “But I could slide for quite a ways. It was pretty smooth, actually. There were a couple of bumps but it worked out well. It was just amazing to throw again.”
Curling in the crisp, open air on the country’s sixth-largest lake, family members plunked down on lawn chairs, watching from the snowy shore — moments of sheer Canadiana.
“Snowmobilers went by, turned around and came back and they’re like, ‘This is the first time we’ve ever seen this.’ They said they see ice fishing, they see skating but never curling on Lake Winnipeg,” she said.
“It was so much fun. My mom (Marilyn) said, ‘I haven’t seen such a big smile on your face in so long.’ I missed it so much, just to be out there, enjoying the weather and practising again.”
Einarson hadn’t tossed a stone in almost two months, owing to the province’s code red health restrictions implemented in November that forced the closure of all curling clubs. To say it was tough on her mind, body and soul would be a massive understatement, particularly with a return engagement at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary quickly approaching.
But just before the flip of the calender to 2021, a family friend thought of a way to help out the head of the No. 2-ranked women’s team in the world. Ivan Gulay, a neighbour along the lake of Einarson’s parents, Jeff and Marilyn Flett, built a skating rink but figured he could set aside some room for a sheet of practise ice for the two-time Manitoba champion.
“They shovelled it all off and Ivan and my dad flooded it and made it as flat as they could. It’s not as long, so we just worked on throwing at broom and getting comfortable with our slides again,” said Einarson, who invited her second, Shannon Birchard, to the unique Interlake practice.
“We made sure we did the social-distancing thing. Shannon threw a few rocks, too, and she did some sweeping to get some cardio in, and we held the broom for each other… kind of back to the basics.
“It was just great to get those movements in again.
The sheet is 36 metres long, about nine metres shy of regulation size, but is missing rings.
“We can’t buy paint anywhere,” Einarson said.
Her dad drilled in a chunk of two-by-four as a makeshift hack. Regulation-sized granite rocks proved too heavy for a stable glide down the sheet, so Einarson borrowed some junior rocks from the club in nearby Petersfield, where the Flett kids learned how to curl.
There’s a poignant twist to the story.
“They’re the junior rocks we donated to the curling rink in my brother’s name after he passed away. I would never normally throw those rocks, so it’s been nice to use them,” she said. Her brother, Kyle, died in a snowmobile accident in December 2006.
“They work perfect. Even my (daughters), Khloe and Kamryn were throwing rocks and were pretty proud to be throwing with Uncle Kyle’s rocks.”
Einarson’s crew defeated Rachel Homan in an extra end last February to capture its first national Scotties crown, but the worldwide pandemic forced the cancellation of the world women’s championship in Prince George, B.C., a few weeks later.
There’s been no 2020-21 season to speak of, and the elite Einarson team is starved for anything that resembles on-ice training prior to the Scotties, which will take place Feb. 20-28 at the Markin MacPhail Centre. The Brier national men’s championship, the Canadian mixed doubles champion, the world men’s championship and a pair of Grand Slam of Curling events will all be staged inside the tightly controlled environment, with protocols for players and officials in place to keep the virus out.
“We leave in just over a month, so we needed some kind of preparation for the (Calgary) bubble. We’re grasping at straws to do anything,” Einarson said.
The foursome’s lead, Briane Meilleur, is dealing with a minor back issue and hasn’t thrown on the lake, while third Val Sweeting lives in Alberta and has been sidelined, too, by its shutdown rules.
“Alberta’s in the same boat,” Einarson said. “Val’s probably trying to find a pond as well.”
Homan is also returning to the Scotties after Ontario cancelled its provincial playdowns, electing to send the reigning champion to Calgary.
The three-time Scotties winner, 2017 world champion and 2018 Olympian is getting in some reps on a diminutive sheet her husband, Shawn Germain, created in a field near the couple’s home in St. Paul, Alta., about two hours east of Edmonton.
“I’ve been able to slide on it quite a few days now, and still keep my slide and leg drive, so it’s been great during this pandemic. It’s tough to go so many months (without curling) and then try and jump in and worry about injuries,” said Homan, who is pregnant with her second child.
“Our neighbour’s little girl skated on it and it’s a sheet for the neighbourhood. I’ve got an old pebbling can I borrowed from the icemaker in town, I melted in a hack onto wood and I have a couple of old rocks that I can slide with.
“It’s tough to replicate (a delivery) inside. So, it’s pretty awesome to be able to slide the length you normally would and stay in that position,” she added. “It’s been great to have right behind the house, so I can go there every day.”
Assistant sports editor
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