Monday, March 1, 2021

ON THE ROCKS: World junior champ Zacharias in awe as she makes Scotties debut against defending champion

ON THE ROCKS: World junior champ Zacharias in awe as she makes Scotties debut against defending champion

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Mackenzie Zacharias got her first look at the ice surface and took her first slides at a Scotties Tournament of Hearts this week, and admitted she was in awe.

“It’s pretty crazy, still hard to believe that we’re actually here,” the 21-year-old Manitoban said as her team prepared for its first Canadian women’s curling championship game Friday night at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.

“Just sliding on that ice is absolutely incredible.

“The first time we actually saw the ice, I was just at a loss for words, just speechless. It was incredible and then to get to slide on it and practice, it was something I’m never gonna forget.”

Zacharias and her teammates are the reigning world junior women’s champions.

They are, by far, the youngest team in the 18-team Scotties field this year, having been invited to play as a wild card team based on their Canadian Team Ranking System points from last season.

There’s a pretty good chance they wouldn’t have received this opportunity for years, if not for changes forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Zacharias is embracing and savouring every minute of the experience.


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“Definitley, I’m in awe,” Zacharias said. “We were practising right next to Kerri Einarson’s team and Jennifer Jones is up there watching us in the stands and we saw Rachel Homan at the hotel. It’s like, ‘Wow, these players are in the same event as us and they’re competing against us.’ I don’t think that has fully sunk in yet but it’s an incredible feeling.”

As luck would have it Zacharias, and teammates Karlee Burgess, Emily Zacharias and Lauren Lenentine, were not getting eased into the tournament on Friday.

They were scheduled to play their first game against defending champion Einarson, as the nationally televised feature game on TSN.

“I haven’t played a game in four months, but why not?” Zacharias said with a laugh.

“Honestly I’m not that nervous and I don’t think the whole team is either. I think we’re just more excited to get out on the ice and play in this event and just curl in general because we haven’t been able to do that for so long.”

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They say when one door closes, another one opens, and it’s an adage that applies perfectly to Rachel Brown and Dana Ferguson.

A year ago, Brown and Ferguson were playing front end for Chelsea Carey and wearing Team Canada colours at the Scotties in Moose Jaw. The year before that, they won the Scotties in Nova Scotia and represented the country on the world stage.

Fast forward to a month ago, and both Brown and Ferguson were on the outside of the curling bubble, looking in.

After splitting with Carey last year, they joined the Kelsey Rocque team from Edmonton. Unfortunately, Rocque’s team was ruled ineligible for the Scotties this year because it didn’t have three of four players remaining from last year’s team.


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But Brown and Ferguson weren’t left out in the cold for long, as Laura Walker came calling.

Walker’s regular lead, Nadine Scotland, is pregnant and did not want to be a part of the bubble in Calgary. So Walker, the reigning Alberta champion, called on Brown to play lead and asked Ferguson to be her team’s alternate at the Scotties in Calgary.

“We called Rachel and Dana pretty much right away,” Walker said Friday.

“To be honest, we didn’t expect them to be available. We were under the assumption that they would find their way into the Scotties through a wild-card spot (with Team Rocque) and kind of felt that they should be there.

“We felt pretty lucky. It was Curling Canada’s loss and our gain, that’s what we felt like.”

Brown didn’t have to think about it for long after Walker called.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to play with these girls and represent Alberta,” she said.

“We got some practices in at the Saville (Curling Centre in Edmonton) and we’ve all been trained fairly similarly. For us, it was just an easy transition. I just slotted in and away we went. The motivation to represent Alberta, especially in our home province, is our common goal and that’s driving us. We’ve made a lot of strides.”

Ferguson is the alternate player, but Walker said she plans to get her into some games.

“Yup, I think we’ll use both of them,” Walker said. “Rachel will play the majority of the games but we wanted to have somebody here who is really versatile and that’s Dana. I don’t think Dana gets enough credit for her curling mindset and what she can do out there on the ice. She can be in the house, she can throw from any position. We felt really comfortable having her there.”


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A year ago, Lori Eddy and her Nunavut teammates were a big part of the story at the Scotties in Moose Jaw.

Eddy, who lives in Ontario, was playing in the Scotties for the first time since making the final as third for Alison Goring way back in 1997.

She was representing Nunavut and helping to mentor a couple of good young players on the biggest stage of women’s curling.

Eddy, third Sadie Pinksen, second Alison Griffin and lead Kaitlin MacDonald, won a couple of games in Moose Jaw and could have made the championship round with a couple of good breaks.

Now they’re back at the Scotties and looking to build on that positive experience from 2020.

“We have the experience now and we’re a little more comfortable out there,” said Eddy, 49.

“It’s just that we haven’t had any games together so there’s a bit of trepidation about what to expect. Our goal would be just to keep it simple and get a feel out there.

“It means a lot to the Nunavut territory for us to be here and last year we got a little bit of exposure. People in Nunavut got to see that if they work hard, they too could be there some day. From what I’ve heard, the curling programs have picked up in Nunavut and I’d like to think, maybe, we contributed a little bit to that.

“Sadie and Kaitlin are amazing ambassadors for the area and for curling. They’re so intelligent and grounded and mature. They are terrific teammates.”


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