Going in Cold: Nunavut skip’s first game with new teammates will come at Scotties

The good news for Amie Shackleton is that she is set to realize her dream of playing at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

The bad news is she has never played a competitive game with her teammates.

Shackleton will serve as skip on Team Nunavut at the Jan. 26-Feb. 4 competition at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton, B.C. She’ll be joined by Geneva Chislett, Denise Hutchings and Robyn Mackey from the Iqaluit Curling Club.

Shackleton, a 43-year-old mortgage agent from St. Marys, Ont., has never made it to the provincial playdowns before — never mind a national championship — with most of her competitive experience coming at regional cashspiels in southwest Ontario.

“It’s going to be curling with complete strangers,” Shackleton said.

She first learned of the opportunity last month while shopping for Christmas gifts. A friend called from Iqaluit to say there was a vacancy on the team as Nunavut second Sadie Pinksen couldn’t make it to the Scotties due to a scheduling conflict.

Normally a team would look within its borders for a replacement player, but there are only a few curling sheets in Nunavut and the pool of competitive curlers is thin. Shackleton’s friend recommended her and the team was interested to have her throw fourth stones.

Shackleton plans to meet her new teammates when she arrives in Penticton on Thursday. A practice session is set for Friday and the team opens competition Saturday against Quebec.

“We thought that it would be smart of us to bring in someone with some more experience,” said Nunavut coach Donalda Mattie. “Amie came on the scene and she’s going to be skipping.”

The use of substitutes does happen from time to time on the elite curling circuit, but it’s quite rare at a national championship.

Curling Canada requirements for the Scotties allows for one import per team from another province or territory. The Ontario Curling Association signed off on Shackleton’s release, Nunavut accepted her, and Curling Canada approved it.

“I’m so excited,” Shackleton said. “I’m an Ontario girl, don’t get me wrong.

“But I feel that I’m as proud to represent Nunavut as I would be to represent Ontario.”

Shackleton, who first started curling at age 13, also manages a curling club in her hometown. The crowds, television cameras and national spotlight will take some getting used to, but she can’t wait to get started.

“I knew for two weeks before I said anything to anybody because I just couldn’t believe that it was real,” Shackleton said. “It’s just a dream that is finally coming true. It’s pretty crazy.”

Christianne West, who has played with Pinksen at the junior level, is listed as the fifth but could see some playing time. The team’s throwing order for the Scotties has not been finalized.

Nunavut made its Scotties debut in 2016 in Grande Prairie, Alta., going 1-2 in the qualification round. The territory also missed out on the main draw last year after posting an 0-3 mark in St. Catharines, Ont.

Chislett served as skip on both occasions.

The four-team Scotties qualifier was scrapped this season and replaced with a format that will see 16 entries in the main draw. Each territory and province is entered along with Northern Ontario, Team Canada, and a new play-in game winner known as Team Wild Card.

Nunavut is in an eight-team pool with Alberta’s Casey Scheidegger, Canada’s Michelle Englot, Ontario’s Holly Duncan, B.C.’s Kesa Van Osch, Stacie Curtis of Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec’s Emilia Gagne and Prince Edward Island’s Robyn MacPhee.

The top four teams from each pool will advance to a playoff pool that will determine the final four playoff teams. Sochi Olympic champion Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg headlines the other eight-team pool.

“Not knowing the girls or even what their abilities are, I’d love to have a record of 1-6 and some close games,” Shackleton said.

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