Team Canada skip Kerri Einarson yells to her sweepers at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Team Canada skip Kerri Einarson yells to her sweepers at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Defending champion Einarson stays unbeaten in Tournament of Hearts

Players suggest a spectator-free debut made it less intimidating

CALGARY — Women’s curling powerhouses Kerri Einarson and Rachel Homan clash Thursday for the first time since last year’s Canadian championship final.

The lack of a competitive curling season because of the COVID-19 pandemic makes the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts championship game in Moose Jaw, Sask., feel not long ago for Einarson, who edged Homan 8-7 in an extra end to take the crown.

“It was a year ago yesterday,” Einarson observed Wednesday. “It’s so hard to believe that it’s been a year.

“We’re expecting a really great game and I’m excited to play Rachel again.”

The defending champions and Ontario’s Homan square off in the round-robin finale at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre.

Regardless of the result, Einarson (7-0) and Homan (6-1) will continue into the championship round of the Hearts, while eight other teams tussle for the remaining six berths Thursday.

Einarson was heavy on a draw for the win in the 10th end of last year’s championship game and gave up a steal of two. She didn’t make the same mistake facing two Homan counters in the 11th.

Homan feels more distance on Moose Jaw because of how different she feels physically.

“Last time, I wasn’t pregnant,” said Homan, who is in her third trimester. “If someone told me we’d be six and one going into our last round-robin (game) I’d be ecstatic.”

“I’d be pretty happy I was still playing and able to compete.”

Alberta’s Laura Walker, Kerry Galusha of Northwest Territories and Beth Peterson’s Wild Card Three all 4-3 remained in contention in Pool A.

Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges topped Pool B with a 5-2 record, but her rookie foursome was among five still battling for four championship round spots Thursday.

“Honestly I can’t wait to be on the ice again and playing against great teams,” said the 23-year-old Quebec skip. “I’m excited to play with my girls, my family and live this experience.”

Saskatchewan’s Sherry Anderson and Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones (4-2), Chelsea Cary’s Wild Card One (4-3) and Prince Edward Island’s Suzanne Birt (3-3) were also Pool B contenders.

The eight advancing teams take their records with them into the championship round Friday and Saturday.

The top three from the championship round will be Sunday’s playoff teams, with the No. 1 seed earning the bye to that day’s final.

N.W.T.’s Galusha handed Homan her first loss in Calgary with a 7-5 win in the morning draw Wednesday.

Galusha followed up with a 10-2 win over Yukon at night to stay in contention. Galusha has yet to make the playoffs in 14 Hearts appearances,.

“I feel really thankful we’re in this position,” the skip said. “It’s a lot of fun being in the mix this year.”

St. Georges’ foursome didn’t arrive in Calgary burdened with the weight of expectations in their first Tournament of Hearts.

Members of the team have suggested this week a spectator-free debut made it less intimidating for them.

The skip and her front end of Emily Riley and sister Cynthia St-Georges are just two years removed from the junior ranks. They won a silver medal together at the national junior championship in 2018.

Third Hailey Armstrong skipped Ontario to a silver medal at the 2017 junior championship.

“Going into the last game of the round-robin tomorrow, we didn’t know what to expect coming here, so we’re really happy with our five-and-two record,” said 19-year-old Cynthia St-Georges.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021.

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