By Tim Gall
Suzanne Birt and her Prince Edward Island team got off to a rough start at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which kicked off on the weekend in Kingston, Ont.
Birt opened the Canadian women’s curling championship with an 0-3 mark in the confines of the K-Rock Centre, playing in front of crowds nearing 3,600 each game. Teamed with Shelly Bradley, Sarah Fullerton, and Leslie MacDougall, the Birt rink suffered its third straight setback Sunday afternoon when they were edged 7-6 by Heather Nedohin and her Team Canada rink out of Alberta.
That followed earlier losses at the hands of New Brunswick’s Andrea Crawford 11-5 Saturday evening and Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones 8-6 in draw one.
The winless record left the P.E.I. representatives out of the Charlottetown Curling Complex in a tie for last place. Two other teams were also winless at 0-2. The Birt foursome as well as Newfoundland and Labrador’s Stacie Devereaux were both 0-3 and set to play one another in draw five late Sunday evening.
Ontario, skipped by Rachel Homan, was in a four-way tie for first-place at 3-0 following the first four draws. Also undefeated were the rinks of Saskatchewan (skipped by Jill Shumay), Manitoba and Team Canada.
The top four teams at the end of the week advance to the playoff round for a shot at the national crown.
The bright side to those standings for P.E.I. is they have lost two games to front runners (Canada and Manitoba) and are set to play Saskatchewan Monday evening in their only game of the day. It means most of the Birt foursome’s remaining games are against teams in a similar situation, trying to chase down a playoff spot.
“Everybody is just so talented,” Birt told The Guardian prior to departing for Kingston. She hoped for a good start, but said losses are bound to happen in the nine-day event.
“(Winning early would) set the tone for the rest of the week, but it’s a long week, so you’re going to have a few losses during the round robin,” she stated. “You just have to pace yourself and play the best you can in every game.”
“It’s all about feel and... knowing the weight,” she added before the event. “Once you get a handle on that, you’ll be good to go for the rest of the week. You always want to play your best and you always want to go out there and win. Bringing that (title) home would be wonderful.”
Birt is making her seventh appearance at The Scotties at age 31, following a successful junior curling career in which she won back-to-back national titles (2001 and 2002) and one world championship.
Her best finish at the women’s national championship came in her Scotties debut in 2003 when her squad finished 10-1 in the round robin before bowing out in the semifinal. It’s been a little tougher since then, with a combined 22-35 record including a 6-5 mark on home ice two years ago.
This is the fifth appearance for lead MacDougall, and the first trip to the women’s national championships for second Fullerton. Vice-skip Bradley is the veteran on the team, marking her ninth tour on the national stage, including three years as an alternate.