It seems like it could be an episode in the Twilight Zone.
It was not that long ago that two-time Canadian woman’s curling champion Chelsea Carey found herself without a team, then not knowing if there would even be a curling season due to the pandemic. Fast forward to February when Carey was asked to replace Tracy Fleury as the skip on her East St. Paul Curling Club after Fleury decided to stay home to look after her baby daughter, Nina (who had some health issues) at the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary.
Fleury had earned a berth in the Scotties as Wild Card1 based on her CTRS points.
Not only did Carey take the reins of a brand-new team, she skipped the squad to a 5-3 record, which wound up clinching a spot in the championship round after the smoked cleared following Thursday night’s draw.
So, does Carey feel like she’s living a dream, going from no chance to curl in competitive women’s play to a winning record at the Scotties so far?
“Well, I wouldn’t say it’s a dream because it is in a bubble,” Carey said from Calgary on Thursday afternoon. “But I’m pretty excited to be here.”
Yes, the bubble. Like the NHL playoffs that were played in Edmonton, a bubble to address Covid-19 concerns was set up to allow curlers to compete in the Scotties, Brier, Mixed Doubles, men’s worlds and two Grand Slam events in Calgary. Players must mask up off the ice, isolate in their hotel rooms between draws, get tested for Covid constantly and curl with no fans in the stands. No handshakes are allowed.
“It’s been bizarre,” Carey said. “I can’t go for walks or even got get a coffee from a Starbucks, which is next to the hotel. It’s pretty restrictive but I understand it and they’ve done a really good job with no negative tests.
“But I just eat, sleep and curl whenever I’m at a Scotties anyways.”
Third Selena Njegovan, second Liz Fyfe and Kristin MacCuish have helped Carey win five games of the preliminary round without the more familiar Fleury at the helm.
“We came here with Chelsea as a new player so, things were gonna take awhile to click,” Njegovan told a media scrum on Zoom. “I feel like we’re learning every game and taking things out of each game.”
Carey, 36, said she had no trouble reading each new player’s delivery since she had watched them throw so often when she curled against them for so many years when she lived in Manitoba before moving to Calgary.
“I think we’ve actually played better than our record in that we should have won some games that didn’t work out,” said Carey, who admitted that she had struggled with “figuring out the ice” earlier.
The Scotties veteran is also finding the atmosphere too quiet with no fans in the stands. Scotties skip Sherry Anderson said she could actually hear a toilet flush.
“It’s definitely weird,” Carey said. “It doesn’t feel like a Scotties. It feels like random spiel at a curling club somewhere.
“It’s also the first Scotties where my parents haven’t been here physically, although we’ve been keeping in touch.”
Dan Carey, her father, coached her for years.
“I definitely hear him in my head during games,” Chelsea said.
Tracy Fleury has also kept in touch daily, Njegovan said.