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Fleury ready for next chapter skipping new Manitoba team

It was simply an offer Tracy Fleury couldn’t refuse.

The Sudbury, Ont., skip contemplated taking a break from competitive curling when her team decided they were going to split up after the season. Those thoughts were brushed aside, however, following a phone call last week with Team Einarson third Selena Kaatz, whose Winnipeg-based club was also planning on shaking things up.

Instead of stepping back, Fleury is now charging forward into the next Olympic cycle announcing Saturday her new team with Kaatz, second Liz Fyfe and lead Kristin MacCuish.

“I was really considering taking a year or two off but then this opportunity came along and I couldn’t turn it down,” Fleury said. “Selena and I chatted on the phone and she said that their team was making changes too. We both thought it would be a good fit. It all happened pretty quickly actually.”

Kaatz reached out to Fleury to skip their squad because she believes they will gel well together.

“Tracy is a great shooter and we’ve always gotten along with her,” Kaatz said. “She’s so sweet and has always been really nice to us. We really respect her as a player so we thought that would be an easy fit for us.”

The feeling was quite mutual as Fleury said she respected the trio as well and cited their talent, consistency and depth for why it was such an easy choice.

“I think this lineup is going to work really well not just on the ice but off the ice too,” Fleury said. “I’ve gotten to know them a little bit these past few years and they’re really nice girls, so I think our team dynamics are going to be strong.”

Those are the same reasons why Fleury is convinced her former team lasted as long as it did. Fleury and her sister, third Jennifer Wylie, have played together since their days in Little Rocks with second Jenna Walsh and lead Amanda Gates joining along the way as they continued their journey through juniors and onto the World Curling Tour and Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling circuits. They added Calgary’s Crystal Webster as an alternate in 2015 to give their lineup flexibility when one player couldn’t take time off of work and allow them to compete in more events.

The breakup was agreed upon months ago before they even won their Northern Ontario playdowns and finished a career-best fourth place at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts earlier this month.

“We didn’t want our result at provincials or at the Scotties to potentially influence our decision either way,” Fleury said. “We met in December and decided this was the best thing. It wasn’t because we weren’t getting along or because we didn’t like playing together. It was just a shift in priorities.”

“There’s a lot of mixed emotions for sure because it was such a great experience with my old team and so much history there,” she added. “I’m going to miss them but I’m definitely really excited for this new opportunity.”

Kaatz said the decision to part ways with skip Kerri Einarson had nothing to do with their track record, things just weren’t working out together. They’ve had a strong cycle winning the inaugural Tour Challenge Tier 2 in 2015 to earn a promotion to the top ranks and proved they could hang with the best capturing Manitoba Scotties and Boost National titles. This season alone has seen them reclaim the Tour Challenge Tier 2 to work their way back into elite status, finish runner-up at the Masters, and take home silver at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

“The whole last four years have been an emotional rollercoaster, kind of up and down a lot,” Kaatz said. “We had a lot of really, really good times; we had some bad times. We got to fulfill a lot of our dreams that we wanted to accomplish, so that was really nice within those four years.”

From fearing the moose to buffalo hunting, Fleury admitted it’s going to be tough with Manitoba long known as one of the toughest provinces — if not the toughest — to play out of. Manitoba had a whopping three teams in this year’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Einarson competed as the wild-card team, Michelle Englot skipped the Team Canada auto-berth selection and Jennifer Jones, who earned her record-tying sixth national championship, represented Manitoba.

It’ll be a different landscape in provincials next season with Jones now holding the Scotties auto-berth ticket, Englot retiring, Fleury playing with Einarson’s crew and Einarson forming a “super team” of former skips with Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur.

“It’s a big change to now be competing in a province that has so much depth and so much talent,” Fleury said. “It’s going to be challenging but I’m definitely up for the challenge.”

Kaatz isn’t too concerned about having an out-of-province skip although it’ll be a crash course in the fall once they link up to establishing chemistry.

“It’s going to be different for sure not having someone practising with us at all times but Kristin, Liz and I used to practise a lot together, just the three of us, so we’re used to that,” Kaatz said. “I think it shouldn’t be too much of a change but just getting to know Tracy and her getting to know us will be something that we’ll have to learn early on in the season.”

Team Einarson plans to play out the year together as they are currently seventh on the World Curling Tour’s year-to-date rankings and will likely receive invitations to the two remaining Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournaments. The Players’ Championship features the top 12 teams of the season while the year-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup requires teams to win a high-profile event to gain a spot. Einarson’s Tour Challenge Tier 2 victory could qualify them for one of the additional WCT berths at the Humpty’s Champions Cup although winning the Players’ Championship outright would also secure a place.

While it may seem awkward for Team Einarson to continue knowing they’ll be heading in separate directions, those points carry over into next season and the new Team Fleury will need them in order to remain in the elite echelon and be able to continue to compete in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling.

“We just want to finish off the year strong,” Kaatz said. “We had such a good year. I think it’s good to go in there with a good attitude, not put any pressure on ourselves and just go out and play.”

Meanwhile, the four-year plan to Beijing 2022 has already started even as this year’s Winter Olympics are still going on in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“We had a call a couple days ago and talked about what our season and future would look like as a team,” Kaatz said. “We don’t want to go into next season blindly. We want to have a plan going forward to make sure that we’re all on the same page. It sounds like we all are so I’m really excited.”