The first draws of the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts will begin on Feb. 15 at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw, Sask.
The Yukon women’s team has been finalized. Representing the territory will be, skip Hailey Birnie, third Chelsea Duncan, second Gabrielle Plonka, lead Kimberly Tuor, fifth Rhonda Horte and coach Lindsay Moldowan.
The team has been hard at work, getting in as much practice as they can at the Whitehorse Curling Club. Birnie said the team is getting excited to head to Moose Jaw.
“We are getting excited,” said Birnie. “We are a new team this year. We’ve been working really hard all season and we are getting things going. I think everybody is really excited.”
The team has two Scotties rookies who will be competing in Moose Jaw.
“For Kim and Gabby this will be their first time at Scotties,” said Birnie. “So there is our own personal excitement just to go but there is the also the added excitement to know what it’s like to go for the first time. We are excited for them to experience it for the first time.”
Birnie played third at last year’s Scotties in Sydney, N.S. and said skipping a team comes with some added responsibilities but she is enjoying the ride of skipping this team.
“Some people would argue that there is definitely more pressure,” said Birnie. “It’s a different position for sure. So far, I’ve really enjoyed skipping this team. This team everybody has pulled together and really been a team player.
“Everybody has had a great attitude since day one. We’ve been able to talk about things, work on things the whole way through. I think that will be a big benefit for us when we get to Moose Jaw for the Scotties.
“We’ve been practising for months, not only curling but our team dynamic, doing troubleshooting and just jiving as a team.”
Birnie said team camaraderie is just as important as skills on the ice because leading up to and competing at the tournament the team is together for “every waking hour for days in a row.”
The competition at the Scotties, Birnie said, is going to be high.
“The competition is fantastic and to say next-level is an understatement,” said Birnie. “Team Canada, people have won worlds, people have won Olympics, these are all people we are going to be competing against.”
At the Scotties, it is national representation from every province and territory plus Team Canada.
“The team that won the Scotties last year and went to the worlds last year will be returning,” said Birnie.
Team Alberta skipped by Chelsea Carey won last year’s tournament 8-6 after a dramatic comeback from 1-5 down to defeat Ontario’s Rachel Homan. They represented Canada at the world championships in Silkeborg, Denmark.
At Scotties, the teams are split into pools.
“We won’t play every team but we will play half the teams,” said Birnie. “They are meant to be even pools so we are going to be playing some of the best curlers in the world.”
Birnie said it can be a little nerve-wracking to go against that calibre of curler but the team is looking forward to the opportunity.
“It is exciting to get that opportunity to play against that calibre of curler,” said Birnie. “You can’t do anything but up your game.”
Birnie spoke to the expectations the team has going into the Scotties.
“The expectations are to go and give it our all,” said Birnie. “We’ve been working so hard. So we really expect to go in there with a great attitude and give our competition good games every game. It will be fantastic.”
Playing at the Scotties brings national attention. The attendance at the tournament in Sydney was 46,796. One thing that is difficult to replicate in practice is the atmosphere of the games with the national media in attendance plus the fans.
“TSN will be there and they will be shooting the whole thing,” said Birnie.
“Part of the process at our pre-game process is that they mic us, they are always listening. There are cranes and cameramen.
“If you are focused on your game they absolutely respect you and what you’re doing and get out of your way when they can. It is a factor that is there but sometimes you are going to have a camera in your face and you just need to be
able to focus and deal with it.
“Sometimes you are going to have a cowbell going off in your ear and people screaming and cheering for the sheet next to you, your opponent and even for you. You might get some chants going. You don’t have time to not throw your
“You need to be able to do your job, which is curling and do it well.”
Birnie said the team has been working on blocking out the external noise.
“It’s something we’ve talked about,” said Birnie. “We are working with a sports psychologist to just help us hone in on that focus.”
Birnie said in her experience the atmosphere can be intimidating but that quickly dissipates into excitement.
“I think it’s really exciting but it can definitely be intimidating,” said Birnie.
“What I’ve told the girls is that it will probably throw you a little bit but you will get so used to it so quickly. The learning curve is so steep but by day two it will just be normal.”
With so many eyes on a team at the tournament, Birnie said it is easy to feed off the energy of the arena.
“Absolutely,” said Birnie. “I think knowing that you have all those eyes and not just the full arena, you have the extra lights, you’ve got the cameras. You’ve got a lot of Canada and some of the world watching.”
The Scotties Tournament of Hearts is the annual Canadian women’s curling championship, sanctioned by Curling Canada. Since 1985, the winning team gets to return to the following year’s tournament as team Canada.