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The Suzanne Birt rink will be heading to the national Scotties Tournament of Hearts next month.
However, the team members will have to wait until this weekend to learn whether they will be wearing the Team P.E.I. colours or a wildcard uniform in Calgary, Feb. 19-28.
The Birt and Darlene London rinks are the only two teams registered for this weekend’s provincial women’s curling championship. The two rinks will play a best-of-five series at the Maple Leaf Curling Club in O’Leary beginning Friday afternoon.
“It is too bad there are not more teams,” said Birt, who has won two straight and 10 provincial women’s titles since 2003.
“With just the two teams, it makes sense it’s a best-of-five. We will play, and it will work out.”
London and her teammates – third stone Robyn MacDonald, second stone Shelley Rice and lead Gail Greene – who curl out of Montague are “pumped” to play for the right to represent P.E.I.
“We love the Scotties playdowns,” said London, who has never competed in a national championship. “This is probably my 12th year (participating in the provincial Scotties).
“We don’t get a chance often to play (a lot of) competitive (games) with other women’s teams; it’s just basically us and one other competitive women’s team in Montague. We basically play against men.”
If the Mitch O’Shea-coached Birt rink wins the provincial championship, team members will wear the P.E.I. colours at the nationals.
If London earns the right to wear the P.E.I. uniform, the Birt team will compete as a wild-card team based on their standings in the Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) points.
Three teams will receive wild-card spots this year to increase the field to 18. Team Birt sits second in CTRS points.
“We are trying hard to be Team P.E.I. first and foremost,” said Birt, who is 39.
Kathy O’Rourke, the Birt rink’s alternate, will move into the third stone position this weekend as COVID-19 restrictions prevent Marie Christianson from travelling to P.E.I. from Nova Scotia.
Michelle McQuaid (lead) and Meaghan Hughes (second stone) round out Team Birt's roster.
“We have been able to practise, and we play in a league in Cornwall once a week, so it’s been good to have a few games and practices together and not just throw (O’Rourke) in there,” said Birt. “We are feeling comfortable.”
Following are the draw times for the provincial Scotties Tournament of Hearts:
Friday, Jan. 29
Draw 1 – 4 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 30
Draw 2 – 11 a.m.
Draw 3 – 4 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 31
Draw 4 – 11 a.m., if necessary.
Draw 5 – 4 p.m., if necessary.
• A story previewing the Tankard provincial men’s curling championship this weekend will appear in an upcoming edition of The Guardian.
• The Blair Jay rink from the Silver Fox in Summerside will meet the Eddie MacKenzie rink from the Crapaud Community Curling Club in a best-of-five series.
London, who previously played with Tammy Dewar-skipped rinks, has witnessed changes in the provincial Scotties over the years. One highlight that stands out is when all the curlers were bagpiped onto the ice when she first started competing.
“We have some up-and-coming young girls in our club,” said London, 59. “We are playing against them for practice and letting them know how excited we are to be going in our provincial playdowns, so (hopefully) they will come up behind us.”
London said she and her teammates are looking forward to competing in the Scotties. She said her team has the “utmost respect” for the Birt rink.
“We all have goals and are going to go out there and give it our best shot,” said London. “Hopefully, we have five good games!”
Following are the last 10 winners of the provincial Scotties Tournament of Heart in P.E.I.:
2020 – Suzanne Birt, Marie Christianson, Meaghan Hughes, Michelle McQuaid
2019 – Suzanne Birt, Marie Christianson, Meaghan Hughes, Michelle McQuaid
2018 – Robyn MacPhee, Sarah Fullerton, Meaghan Hughes, Michelle McQuaid
2017 – Robyn MacPhee, Sarah Fullerton, Meaghan Hughes, Michelle McQuaid
2016 – Suzanne Birt, Robyn Green, Meaghan Hughes, Marie Christianson
2015 – Suzanne Birt, Shelly Bradley, Michelle McQuaid, Susan McInnis
2014 – Kim Dolan, Rebecca Jean MacDonald, Sinead Dolan, Michaela Robison, Jackie Reid (alternate)
2013 – Suzanne Birt, Shelly Bradley, Sarah Fullerton, Leslie MacDougall
2012 – Kim Dolan, Rebecca Jean MacDonald, Sinead Dolan, Nancy Cameron/Michala Robison
2011 – Suzanne Birt, Shelly Bradley, Robyn MacPhee, Leslie MacDougall
Birt and London both expressed how fortunate they feel to have the opportunity to play for a provincial championship.
“There are a lot of teams across Canada who haven’t been able to get out on the ice and are making their sheets of ice in their backyards, lakes or wherever they can find ice outside,” said Birt. “We have been so lucky on P.E.I. to be able to practise and play.”
London said she wishes there was a larger field for the provincials, but she understands the reasons.
Teams entering provincials had to commit, should they be victorious, to follow all the guidelines to enter the bubble for nationals.
“We sat down as a team and talked about that,” said London. “Everybody said, ‘If there was ever a chance to make it, we will do whatever we have to do to make it happen.’”