Heather Strong cruises to 11th provincial Scotties title

John
John Browne
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The Heather Strong rink pose for photos with the trophy after winning the Scotties provincial women’s curling championship Saturday at the Re/Max Centre in St. John’s. Members of the championship team are (from left) lead Kathy Cooper, second Jessica Cunningham, third Laura Strong, skip Heather Strong and coach Geoff Cunningham.

Beats Shelley Nichols 10-3 in final, earns berth at national Scotties next month in Montreal

Heather Strong is going back to the national Scotties Tournament of Hearts for the seventh time in a decade after defeating Shelley Nichols 10-3 for the provincial women’s curling championship at the Re/Max Centre (St. John’s Curling Club) over the weekend.

The championship Bally Haly rink, coached by Geoff Cunningham, will now represent the province at the national women’s curling championship in Montreal, Feb. 1-9.

This will be Strong’s 11th appearance overall in the national championships, but if you think it’s ho-hum for the veteran skip, you’re wrong.

“We’re really excited and honoured to represent Newfoundland and Labrador at the national Scotties,” Strong said Sunday night. “I’m so proud of my team.”

Strong and her Bally Half rink of Laura Strong, Jessica Cunningham and Kathy Cooper led 4-3 after seven ends, but pulled away with a steal of three in the eighth and ninth ends, leaving Nichols’ only option to shake hands.

“The stolen points were the key,” said Strong. “Draw weight was tricky and we forced Shelley to make some difficult draws. She had to be very precise, with not much room for error, and we capitalized on those pressure draws that missed their mark.”

Strong said, with the exception of the 9-7 loss to Stacie Devereaux in the round-robin, “We were solid throughout” the championship.

“In that game, we seemed to be missing uncharacteristically,” noted Strong. “Once we shook that game off, we got back on track and focused shot by shot rather than win by win.”

It was a discouraging and unexpected end to the tournament for Nichols who finished tied atop the standings with Strong at 3-1 following round-robin play. Beth Hamilton posted a 2-2 record followed by Stephanie Guzzwell and defending champion Stacie Devereaux at 1-3 each.

“I woke up the morning of the final feeling it was our game, our time,” said Nichols.

“And then at the end of the day you are left wondering what happened…what went wrong? That’s what’s makes it more difficult to take.

“On the other hand,” Nichols said, “Heather (Strong) was fantastic and made some great shots.”

Strong obviously played well, but admits she wasn’t perfect.

“There are shots I missed, including a free draw for two in the first end, for example,” she pointed out. “Fortunately, the ones I missed didn’t cost us too badly. “In curling,” she added, “it’s often not about what you miss but when you miss.”

“We’d lost to Nichols earlier this season and we had an epic battle the night before the final in the round robin which went to an extra end. So, I think it’s fair to say that we brought our A game, while they (Nichols) didn’t quite have their best performance.”

Strong said the rink will continue to play against “the best men’s and women’s teams” in St. John’s in the two local Super leagues in preparation for next month’s nationals.

“We’ll take the positives from this past weekend and use them as momentum to continue to build.

“Winning the province is wonderful, but the focus quickly shifts to being a contender and representing the province well on the national stage.”

jbrowne@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: Montreal, Newfoundland and Labrador

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