Old rivals become new teammates

Darcy MacRae
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Strong and Cunningham now on the same side

It's still early in the curling season, but Heather Strong already likes what she sees in her new team.

Strong is teaming with her sister Laura (second), Peg Goss (lead) and Cathy Cunningham (third) this season, bringing together members of the province's top two women's curling clubs over the past decade.

The new-look team of (from left) Heather Strong, Cathy Cunningham, Laura Strong and Peg Goss made it to the semifinals in their first World Curling Tour event of the season over the weekend in Saskatoon, Sask., earing $3,500 in the process. Submitted pho

It's still early in the curling season, but Heather Strong already likes what she sees in her new team.

Strong is teaming with her sister Laura (second), Peg Goss (lead) and Cathy Cunningham (third) this season, bringing together members of the province's top two women's curling clubs over the past decade.

In the last 10 years, a team skipped by either Strong or Cunningham has won the provincial championship, with Strong representing Newfoundland and Labrador at the last two Scottie's Tournament of Hearts. This season, the rinks have combined, more or less, with the Strong sisters joining forces with Cunningham and Goss, her long-time third.

"It just seemed like a good fit. We have similar goals, similar work ethics, these are important elements in forming a team. It just seemed like a good opportunity," said Strong.

Strong is reluctant to say she and Cunningham were rivals, chuckling at the notion the two were fierce combatants, but she does admit each team knew it would have to go through the other every winter in order to win the provincial crown. However, she said the many big games they played against each other did not create any animosity between the teams, which has helped the four players get along famously so far.

"No, it's gone well, " answered Strong when asked if there's been any tension. "We formed the team in April and worked off ice as a team throughout the summer.

'We had a fair bit of home work done going into the season.'

For the past two seasons, Cunningham was the Strong rink's fifth at the Scottie Tournament of Hearts. This pairing got the province's top two female skips talking about what life could be like if they played together regularly.

"I always knew her as a great shot-maker, but that allowed me to get to know Cathy's personality and I got curious about playing together," said Strong.

The Strong rink, known as Team Rodrigues Winery, played its first World Curling Tour event of the season last weekend in Saskatoon, Sask., competing in the 32-team Colonial Square Curling Classic. Team Strong advanced to the semifinals before being eliminated Monday by the eventual champion, Stefanie Lawton of Saskatchewan.

The rink's only losses at the event were to teams which qualified for the playoff round (final eight), and after returning home Tuesday, Strong said she and her teammates are pleased with how they curled in Saskatoon.

"Yeah, we are. Our ice (in St. John's) just went down at the beginning of October, while a lot of the teams we played had started in August," said Strong. "The goal was to get in as many quality games as we could and to come away with nine games was excellent. The placing on top of that is icing on the cake .

"I was pleased with how we gelled as a team because it really was our first test ... we only played together six times locally. We're going to continue to work on communication. We have to make sure we're all on the same page with every shot called."

Strong was also encouraged by how well the four curlers got along during the trip.

"We're familiar with each other, having played against one another for a number of years. But it was new being on the road together, travelling with the girls. That went really well," said Strong.

Team Strong will continue to play locally before its next WCT stop in late November at New Glasgow, N.S.

dmacrae@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan St. John's New Glasgow

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