Chelsea Carey is well aware expectations are sky high when competing for Canada on the world stage. She’s been here before.
Carey captured her second career Scotties Tournament of Hearts title last month in Sydney, N.S., to earn the right to wear the Maple Leaf once again at the world women’s curling championship.
The 34-year-old skip from Calgary finished in fourth place three years ago and is determined to make it onto the podium this time around, however, she’s also going to appreciate the experience more as you never know when the opportunity will arise again.
“I think that’s maybe what I missed last time,” Carey said after her Alberta club defeated Rachel Homan’s Team Ontario 8-6 in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts final. “I didn’t have a whole lot of fun with it because the week wasn’t going very well. The Maple Leaf, wearing it is the greatest honour of my life and the most humbling experience I’ve ever had but it is heavy because the expectations are high.
“This time, I am going to try and enjoy it a little bit more because you don’t know when you’re going to do it again. Obviously, I would like to have a good result there but at the end of the day you’re the Canadian champion and no one can take that away from you. It’s easy to lose sight of that.”
Carey returns to the world championship with an all-new roster featuring third Sarah Wilkes, second Dana Ferguson and lead Rachel Brown. Although the three are first-time Scotties Tournament of Hearts winners, Wilkes has represented Canada previously at the world mixed curling championship and Winter Universiade.
“Whenever you get to wear the Maple Leaf, it’s few and far between,” Wilkes said. “It’s so humbling and it’s just such a privilege to wear the Maple Leaf on your back and to get to represent Canada. There’s pressure associated with it, for sure, because you want to bring home the gold for Canada. That’s what everyone expects. There will definitely be pressure but all we can do is go and play our best, embrace it and have fun.”
While expectations at the world championship are through the roof, getting to play for Canada was a bit unexpected given the shocking finish to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts final. Team Carey entered as the top seed but lost control of the match against Homan early falling behind 5-1 after four ends. Carey surged in the second half thanks to steals including the 10th and extra ends as Homan came up light on her final draw shots.
“Before she threw, Chelsea and I looked at each other and said, ‘Good week. You did all you could.’ We put her in the position that we wanted to and she came up light, which is crazy,” said Wilkes, who is originally from the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, Ont. “I’ve played against Emma and Rachel forever; since I was probably 12 years old. We’ve known each other forever, they’ve always been fierce competitors and I’ve lost lots of finals to them. It was surprising but you’ve got to put other teams in tough positions and hope for the best.”
There are some parallels to the last time Carey won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in 2016 as she claimed that one in her first season with a new team — third Amy Nixon, second Jocelyn Peterman and lead Laine Peters — and entered the final as the top seed, too. However, Carey remained in control of that championship game against Northern Ontario holding the last-rock advantage for the final frame to deliver the winning shot rather than pick up a stunning steal.
“It was a close game all the way but with hammer coming home, we expect to win that game,” Carey said. “I think I was a lot more aware that we had won it than I am right now because when you get down 5-1 to Rachel Homan, you don’t think you’re winning. At the half, we certainly didn’t expect to be standing here with gold medals around our necks. We just kept battling it out, got some uncharacteristic misses out of her and were lucky enough to pull it off.”
It was actually that kind of week for Team Carey as their 11-2 overall record included four wins decided by only one point and it’s also been that kind of year, too.
“We’ve had to grind all season and we actually talked about it,” Carey said. “In our first event together, we got down to a team and we kind of gave up. I said we need to be grinders, this needs to be our identity, we need to own that and really work hard at being that team. We’ve worked all season at being that team and it came to fruition today with the way this game went.”
Part of the issue was the team’s dynamic to start the season. Ferguson and Brown had been teammates for years and were longtime friends with Wilkes, who had also been their alternate in the past on Val Sweeting’s team. That established chemistry was put on the back-burner though as Brown was away on mat leave while Ferguson held the broom in the house during skip stones instead of Wilkes. Once Brown returned and reunited with Ferguson and Wilkes took over vice skip duties, everything fell into place.
“This feels so much better,” Wilkes said. “I was in a comfortable role, I’ve played third forever, Dana was back with Rachel sweeping and it just clicked. Ah, this is how it should it feel like. OK, this is way easier.”
Carey begins her quest for the world championship Saturday in Silkeborg, Denmark, against Minji Kim’s team from South Korea.
NOTES: Carey also looks to make it a three-peat for Canada as Homan claimed the world championship in 2017 while Jennifer Jones took the title a year ago. … Although Team Carey didn’t have an alternate player at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, they will have one for worlds: Jill Officer. The 43-year-old longtime second for Jones took a step back from competitive curling after last season but stayed on board as the Winnipeg club’s alternate. … The 13-team field includes familiar names such as Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg, Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni and Jamie Sinclair of the United States, but also a couple of surprises. Sophie Jackson upset perennial Scottish rep Eve Muirhead for their national championship while Alina Kovaleva upended Anna Sidorova for Russia’s spot.