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Paul Lefebvre - MP for Sudbury
Quality Inn - Sudbury
Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018
Tracy and team hopeful that third time is the charm
2018-01-28
by Randy Pascal

“We’ve been to three Scotties now, and the format has been different at all three,” noted Northern Ontario championship women’s skip Tracy Fleury. “We’re feeling like we’re the guinea pigs of Scotties’ formats.”

On so many levels, this third trip to the Canadian Women’s Curling Championship is different.

For starters, this particular Idylwylde Golf & Country Club incarnation, one that includes a lineup of Fleury, Crystal Webster (vice), Jennifer Wylie (second), Amanda Gates (lead) and Jenna Enge (fifth), is a first for Team Fleury at the Scotties.

Despite her extensive curling experience that dates all the way back to competing at the 1994 Canadian Junior Curling Championships, this will be Webster’s first ever competitive trip to the open women’s nationals (she served as alternate for Shannon Kleibrink in 2011).

With three years since their last visit to the event, and with all but Enge having now surpassed the 30th birthday mark, it’s not that hard to see that all involved with Team Fleury are approaching their trek to Penticton with a mindset that befits their collective experience.

“With our first one, we were just so excited about the experience,” recalled Fleury. “In the second one, we had the relegation piece (Northern Ontario was forced to qualify for the main tournament via a preliminary showdown that included a handful of the lower ranked teams from the previous year), so there was a little more pressure in that one, trying to get Northern Ontario into the main field.”

“In this one, we would really like to make a playoff run,” she continued. “Last time, we were just short of the playoffs, so that’s definitely the goal this time.” Certainly, a core familiarity will be on their side. One time rival skips while representing Lockerby Composite and St Benedict Secondary School respectively, Fleury (then Tracy Horgan) and Gates have now partnered together for some 14 years, with Wylie in that mix nearly as long.

“I think this five man team could not have worked five years ago,” conceded Gates. “Our maturity has allowed us to have the five, and the five all kind of feel the same way in terms of the team goal. I don’t think at 25, that we could have done that.”

There is clearly comfort in the role that each player enjoys as a key cog in this wheel of curling success. “Some people want to be last rock throwers, I want to be the supporter of the last rock thrower,” Gates noted with a laugh. “It sounds weird, but I trust her to make the shots. I know, by now, what she needs from me to make those shots.”

It’s a transition that has gradually occurred over time, one that is also influenced by the changes to the roster, even though they’ve been few and far between. “Some people might be surprised, but I don’t talk in a curling game as much as I used to, and as much as people probably think I do,” said Gates. “I offer words of encouragement when they’re needed, helping to keep things light.”

“But when it comes to strategy input or group discussion, maybe I’m the first person to say something to lead it, but then I kind of take a step back. Crystal is a very vocal person. I’ve kind of let her take that role on a little bit more, which is nicer for me. I don’t have to worry about being the talker all the time. I can just worry about being that positive voice.”

The 2017-2018 season has been an interesting one for Team Fleury, mixing in the highs of claiming provincials and a strong showing at the Grand Slam in Sault Ste Marie, with the disappointment of not advancing through to the Roar of the Rings Olympic qualifier. That result, however, is viewed much differently within the inner circle of the team, compared perhaps to the casual curling fan base.

“A lot of people might see the pre-trials as a disappointment, because we didn’t achieve our goal,” states Gates. “But when we looked back on it, we all played very well. We enjoyed some personal best weeks, were high in the stats – it just didn’t turn into wins. We were disappointed with our record, and not making it through, but the dips in our season aren’t as drastic as they appear.”

There is no denying that an outstanding showing at Scotties could go a long way towards closing out this season in style. There is a tangible anticipation, an excitement within the team, leading into the bonspiel that kicks off play on Saturday. “For me, Scotties is the best,” said Gates. “As an extrovert, I love the fans, I love the feeling of being there, I love wearing the green and gold and having the messages from people back home. I love playing in arenas, I’m excited to be back on the ice with teammates again, just seeing what this team can do.”

In a field that features a handful of new faces along with the absence of the Rachel Homan rink, representing Canada at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, experience is key. “It’s such a long week, it’s definitely the longest competition that we face all season long, with ten end games and multiple games a day,” noted Fleury. “Just making sure we take the time to rest and recover is something that we have really learned in our past two trips.”

And when all is said and done, there will be time to reconvene and look to the future, one that is more difficult to predict with every passing year. “It’s been a lot of fun years together, we have a lot of memories,” said Fleury. “You never know when it’s going to be your last trip there, so when you go, you want to take it all in and give it your best shot.”

“We haven’t talked about it much, past this season. We kind of tend to go in four year increments, with the Olympic cycle. Our team could change too.” Because change, as they say, is the only constant.

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