Newfoundland and Labrador takes on Nova Scotia, Quebec today
Skip Heather Strong said she likes her team’s chances of making the playoffs this year at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Montreal.
Newfoundland and Labrador skip Heather Strong and her Bally Haly rink of Laura Strong, Jessica Cunningham and Kathryn Cooper open the 2014 Scotties Tournament of Hearts national women’s curling championship with a pair of games today in Montral. Newfoundland takes on Nova Scotia and Quebec in their first two games. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
“But then again,” Strong added, “I’ve felt prepared and confident going into the vast majority of these national championships I’ve competed in.”
Strong and her Bally Half rink of Laura Strong, Jessica Cunningham and Kathryn Cooper earned her 11th trip to the nationals by defeating Shelley Nichols 10-3 in the provincial final. It was Strong’s seventh title in the past 10 years.
Only Sue Anne Bartlett, with a dozen national appearances at the Scotties, has represented the province more in women’s curling.
Strong finished 4-7 at her last nationals in 2012. She produced her best showing in 2006 and 2008 when she registered 7-4 performances.
The 2014 competition begins today in Montreal at the Maurice Richard Arena.
“Getting off to a strong start is critical,” said Strong. “That will be our focus. We want to have a great practice, feel good about the rocks and the ice and play well right out of the gate.
“A strong start might mean losing close games,” she said, “but we can't control that. We can control playing powerfully and consistently. That's the aim.”
Winning the national Scotties isn’t easy, but it’s often wide open and unpredictable.
“Women's curling has grown consistently over the years in terms of precise shot execution,” said Strong. “This is party due to more lively rocks, faster ice and more effective equipment for sweeping.
“That said, the women's field is tight and anyone is capable of beating anyone else on any night. That’s what makes it interesting as a player and as a spectator.”
Strong said that can’t be said on the men’s side at the nationals.
“There appears to be a bigger gap between a handful of elite level men’s teams and the rest of the pack. The wins and losses are more predictable.”
The skip is the key position in curling and you might think that leads to second guessing at times.
“I tend not to second guess my strategy calls much anymore,” said Strong. “I’m confident about that for the most part. But I will often second guess the amount of ice I give or the amount of weight to throw in order to make the shot I called,” she added.
The rest of the 2014 field consists of B.C.’s Kesa van Osch, Alberta’s Val Sweeting, Saskatchewan’s Stefanie Lawton, Manitoba’s Chelsea Carey, Quebec’s Allison Ross, Ontario’s Alli Flaxey, New Brunswick’s Andrea Crawford, Nova Scotia’s Heather Smith, P.E.I.’s Kim Dolan, the Territories’ Sarah Koltun and defending champion Rachel Homan and Team Canada.
Newfoundland and Labrador representatives open against Nova Scotia this afternoon before taking on host Quebec in the evening draw.
There might be some extra pressure facing the home team in the evening draw, but Strong hasn’t thought a lot about it other than it will be exciting.
“To be honest,” she said, “I hadn’t noticed the order in which we play each province. I always look at the byes, the games where we are not playing. It’s important to know that stuff so you can maximize rest time; when to eat lightly vs enjoying a restaurant; how many early rises, and are they preceded by playing the evening game? That sort of thing.
“As for the specific team we’ll face, I look at those details one game at a time and our first game is against Nova Scotia.”
Still, she said “I get excited thinking about the energy that will be in the building the night of opening weekend.
“I mean, that's the pinnacle of sport — playing top level athletes, with high stakes, and lots of people watching. It doesn't get better than that.”
Strong said that while the majority might obviously be cheering for Quebec, curling fans also cheer for good shot making in general.
“And, if all else fails, we have quite a ‘strong’ Newfoundland and Labrador contingency making the trip to Montreal, so they will be cheering loudly as well.”
Strong’s rink is coached by Geoff Cunningham.
“It’s impossible for anyone not to work well with Geoff,” said Strong. “His energy and attitude are excellent and I have great respect for him.
“A good coach can be different things to different teams. A coach can take talented shooters and ensure they operate as a team. Geoff adds the perfect combination of experience, positive attitude and ability to add levity and patience for our team.”
Strong says it’s tough competing without more tournaments off the island, but she remains positive.
“Because the cost of travel has increased it has indirectly handicapped the island part of the province. That’s not to say Newfoundland is not capable of bringing home the championship. It’s just to say that victory will taste that much sweeter when it happens.”