ST. CATHARINES, Ont. — Michelle Englot’s rink is keeping up with the Joneses just fine so far.
Englot’s first-year Manitoba rink is 3-0 after two days of round-robin play at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, reminiscent of the kind of supreme success Jennifer Jones and her Winnipeg-St. Vital rink routinely experienced at the nationals.
But Jones isn’t here. Three weeks ago, Englot and her far-flung Prairies foursome stunningly knocked off the five-time Scotties winner and Olympic champion in the provincial final.
Don’t call it a fluke.
In Manitoba’s opening Scotties match on Saturday afternoon at the Meridian Centre, Englot rallied with two in the 10th end to edge Quebec 7-6. On Sunday morning — in a much cooler arena setting that prevented frost buildup on the ice sheets, which had vexed curlers Saturday — the 53-year-old knocked off her native province, Saskatchewan, 8-5.
And on Sunday afternoon, Englot handed Northwest Territories skip Kerry Galusha her first defeat, 9-4.
“(It feels) good,” Englot said. “We keep getting stronger every game, too, and I think that’s important at this point. Our goal was to be 3-0 and keep learning about the ice, and we’re definitely doing that. Hopefully, we’ll get a really good rest tonight and come out strong tomorrow, too.”
Rachel Homan of Ontario (3-0) and Stacie Curtis of Newfoundland (2-0) were the only other undefeated skips entering Sunday night’s Draw 4 at the women’s curling nationals.
It was a year ago this week that Englot — a near lifelong Regina resident and seven-time Scotties skip as Saskatchewan champion — received the unlikely email that saw her team up with her three Manitoba teammates for this season: third Kate Cameron, 25; second Leslie Wilson, 37; and lead Raunora Westcott, 40.
The trio had just lost their skip, Kristy McDonald.
“Raunora, Leslie and Kristy were really good friends,” Cameron said. “They had played together in the past. They picked me up after I’d skipped another team in Manitoba for quite some time.”
After that foursome was eliminated at last year’s Manitoba playdowns, McDonald informed the trio she was departing for full-time motherhood. The others hoped to remain together, but had a heck of a vacancy to fill.
“We were looking for someone close, but we knew Manitoba didn’t have the skip we wanted,” Cameron said. “We wanted experience and knowledge, someone who could bring more to our team. Michelle was our person.”
Our goal was to be 3-0 and keep learning about the ice, and we’re definitely doing that
Cameron didn’t know Englot, so she cold-emailed her. The timing was perfect. Englot’s Regina rink just happened to be disbanding.
“It was just a matter of everybody being at different points in their life,” Englot said. “One was having a baby, one has two kids who play competitive hockey, and one had just graduated from nursing and wanted to concentrate on finding a full-time position. They’re great friends and always will be.
“I never really thought that getting onto a team like this was a possibility. So when Kate contacted me, it was like, whoa.”
The foursome announced their formation on Sandra Schmirler Day during last year’s Scotties. And on Sandra Schmirler Day this year, Sunday, Englot shone — peeling rival rock after rival rock and scoring with equally clutch shots.
The foursome ostensibly is based out of Winnipeg’s Granite Curling Club, but only the lead, Westcott, lives there. Englot, in Regina, actually lives considerably closer to Winnipeg (a five-hour drive from the west) than Cameron in Thompson (an eight-hour drive from the north).
“And Leslie lives about two hours outside Winnipeg, in Pinawa,” Cameron said. “So we kind of all do our own thing between competitions.”
From September up to the Christmas Holidays, the new foursome met up only three times a month, at bonspiels. Isn’t that a tough way to bond and get to really know one another?
“Actually, I think that’s the best way to do it,” Englot said.
A few days of bonding over the Christmas holidays in Winnipeg helped, too, the skip and vice both said.
“We hung out, had drinks,” Englot said. “The girls took me on a night out in Winnipeg and showed me some sights I’d never seen. It’s an amazing city to me now — I never thought so before.”
How weird was it the other day when Englot donned a Manitoba yellow-and-white jersey, after decades of wearing Saskatchewan’s green-and-white?
“It’s still weird. I don’t think it’s going to wear off, really,” she said. “I feel like a rookie. It’s so exciting coming to this and being in yellow and representing the Buffalo. It’s awesome.”
As for Homan and Ontario, the world’s top-ranked foursome continues to look and play like the favourites they are. On Sunday, they wiped out Maria Mallett of British Columbia 9-3 in eight ends, and Robyn MacPhee of Prince Edward Island 8-3 in 10.
“We’re happy to come out with the two W’s,” Ontario third Emma Miskew said. “The ice definitely wasn’t as frosty as yesterday. It was great: predictable, readable.”
Curtis of Newfoundland followed up a 7-4 win Saturday night over Penny Barker of Saskatchewan with a 10-5 blasting of struggling B.C. on Sunday afternoon. This is her team’s fourth Scotties.
Round-robin play continues through Friday morning, with weekend playoffs concluding next Sunday night with the championship final.