The Suzanne Birt-skipped rink invested the time to be ready for this year’s P.E.I. Scotties Tournament of Hearts and it paid off on Sunday.
The squad, which also includes third Marie Christianson, second Meaghan Hughes, lead Michelle McQuaid and coach Mitchell O’Shea, defeated Veronica Smith’s team from the Silver Fox Curling Club in Summerside 8-1 in seven ends Sunday morning to defend its title. They went 5-1 in the five-team tournament.
The Birt rink became members of the host Montague Curling Rink this year in order to familiarize themselves with the ice. It also went to two tournaments in Ontario and eight more across the Maritimes.
“We just had a feeling of being very well prepared,” Birt said Sunday afternoon. “It’s a lot of time away from family and life at home, but it’s definitely worth it in these situations. We do what we love to do – curling. And the best chance we have to prepare ourselves for the big national stage is (to play a lot).”
The entire team was back from last year’s championship run and Birt said the familiarity with one another helps.
“You learn everybody’s tendencies and how they throw the rocks,” she said, while adding they have a strong bond on and off the ice. “We just really enjoy being together.”
Birt and Smith met in each of the three event finals. Smith won B 5-4 on Friday with Birt being victorious in A (6-5) Thursday and C (8-1) Saturday.
“They played great all weekend,” Birt said of the Smith rink. “We had a few tough games this weekend so it’s good that we could grind through, keep together and keep to our game plan.”
Smith needed to win Sunday morning to force a winner-take-all game in the afternoon.
Leading 2-1, Birt counted five in the sixth to take a commanding lead when Smith’s last shot was heavy. It gave Birt an open shot for five with a couple of her team’s rocks hanging around the 12-foot.
“It was five, but we had to work hard for it,” she said.
Birt stole one in the seventh to end it.
Sunday’s victory was her 11th provincial women’s title and clinched her team a berth at the national Scotties, Feb. 15-23, in Moose Jaw, Sask. Birt’s best finish at the national women’s championship was a bronze at the 2003 Scotties in Kitchener, Ont. Birt and McQuaid played together in the 2015 tournament when Moose Jaw hosted. Saskatchewan has won a Scotties-leading 11 championships.
“It never gets old going back to the Scotties. It’s always an amazing feeling,” said Birt. “They’re a really big curling community in the whole province. . . The Saskatchewan team will have lots of fans.”
The Birt rink will continue to practise in Montague a few times a week plus has a couple of events planned, including one in Halifax, before nationals.