Suzanne Birt is bringing a renewed enthusiasm back to the national stage.
The 37-year-old Summerside native will skip P.E.I.’s representative at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts for the 10th time.
“Each and every time it is such a privilege to go,” said Birt, who returned to competitive curling this season after a two-year break.
“I needed a little recharge, a little mental break,” offered Birt. “It made me realize watching the curling in the provincials and this time of the year, I missed that competition. I’m looking forward to competing and getting back at it.”
The Mitchell O’Shea-coached Birt rink, which also includes third stone Marie Christianson, second stone Meaghan Hughes and lead Michelle McQuaid, will begin play in the 2019 Canadian women’s curling championship in Sydney, N.S., on Saturday evening.
“I’m really excited,” said Hughes, who will be competing in her fourth national Scotties in a row. “It took me a few tries to get to the Scotties, so I will never take for granted another trip there.”
Birt’s road back to the national scene was not without some adversity. Her rink dropped its first two games of the modified triple-knockout format in the provincial championship in Alberton, before roaring back with five straight victories, including a 10-4 title-clinching win over Cornwall’s Veronica Smith on Jan. 13.
“It was a real grind to win the provincials,” said Birt. “We were fighting for our lives in the last five games, where we had to win.
“It really showed a lot of character within the team that we stuck together and got on a roll. We are feeling good about the upcoming week.”
“I needed a little recharge, a little mental break. It made me realize watching the curling in the provincials and this time of the year, I missed that competition. I’m looking forward to competing and getting back at it.” -Suzanne Birt
The 16 teams are divided into two pools of eight. Each team will play seven round-robin games, and the top four in each pool will advance to the championship round.
“We, for sure, would like to make the championship pool,” said Birt. “We are going to take it game by game.
“We have our schedule laid out, and hopefully, at the end of it, we will be in the championship pool and just play some good games. I think we can upset a few teams, and have a good week.”
Overall, Birt has been pleased with her rink’s performance.
“We have had a great season,” continued Birt. “We’ve played in five or six spiels, and we’ve qualified, won or lost in the finals or semifinals of each spiel.
“We are feeling ready, and we have practised hard between now and the provincials. We have been down in Montague, Larry Richards makes great ice down there, they have brand new rocks and it really gives you that feel what Scotties ice will be like.”
P.E.I.’s schedule at Scotties Tournament of Hearts (All times Atlantic)
Saturday, Feb. 16
- 7:30 p.m. – vs. Newfoundland and Labrador (Kelli Sharpe)
Sunday, Feb. 17
- 2:30 p.m. – vs. winner of Friday night’s wild-card game between Kerri Einarson and Casey Scheidegger
Monday, Feb. 18
- 9:30 a.m. – vs. Team Canada (Jennifer Jones)
- 7:30 p.m. – vs. Yukon (Nicole Baldwin)
Tuesday, Feb. 19
- 2:30 p.m. – vs. New Brunswick (Andrea Crawford)
Wednesday, Feb. 20
- 9:30 a.m. – vs. Northwest Territories (Kerry Galusha)
- 7:30 p.m. – vs. Saskatchewan (Robyn Silvernagle)
End of round robin.
NOTE: Tiebreakers will be played Thursday morning, with the championship round beginning in the afternoon.
When asked if there is anything, in particular, she has learned from her previous experiences at the Scotties that she can draw on this year, Hughes referred to sweeping.
“There’s quite a difference trying to manage rock placement in an arena setting versus in a club, where it is a little bit straighter and you are not going to get as much finish on rocks,” explained Hughes. “For me, I will draw on knowing when to sweep and when a rock is going to finish on its own.”
McQuaid will team with Hughes to handle the majority of P.E.I.’s sweeping.
“A big role for us is judgement sweeping,” said McQuaid. “We have tried to get out on some quicker and curlier ice, because those are the conditions at the Scotties.”
McQuaid credits a strong chemistry as a big part of Team Birt’s success.
“It’s been a lot of fun curling with the girls,” said McQuaid, who will be appearing in her fourth Scotties. “It’s been kind of a lighter season in terms of our schedule, so it’s been a little easier on us and we’ve been trying to enjoy it as much as we can.
“We have been doing a lot more work off the ice than we have in previous years, so I think we are feeling a little more prepared in that aspect.”