Long curling qualifying road to Beijing Olympics makes stop in Ottawa

Jill Brothers had been hoping there might be an outside chance her team could somehow find its way into the Home Hardware Curling Pre-Trials field next month in her hometown of Liverpool, N.S.

A five-time participant at the women's national championship, Brothers thought her foursome might get the nod if another rink declined its berth. She was floored to receive a recent email with an unexpected invitation to play in a new qualification event with two Pre-Trials spots on the line.

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"I jumped out of my chair at work and screamed like a schoolgirl," Brothers said Wednesday. "My co-worker was terrified."

Her team, ranked 47th in the world, is one of eight women's rinks that will play in this week's Canadian Curling Pre-Trials Direct-Entry competition at the RA Centre in Ottawa.

It's part of the long qualifying road to the Nov. 20-28 Tim Hortons Curling Trials, which will determine Canada's four-player teams for the Beijing Games.

Two teams will emerge from the triple-knockout draw to play at the Oct. 26-31 Home Hardware Pre-Trials. The same format is in place for the eight men's teams this week.

Results from the Pre-Trials -- which already has 10 women's teams entered along with nine men's teams -- will determine the final two spots in both the men's and women's fields at the main Trials.

Also on tap this week in Ottawa is the Canadian Curling Trials Direct-Entry Event. Three women's spots and two men's berths are on the line for the main playdowns in Saskatoon.

Curling Canada revised its qualifying criteria because the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out most of the 2020-21 events that would have normally determined the fields.

It has made for an unusual setup that may be convoluted but is designed to reward strong results and provide opportunities for worthy teams.

"I was excited, then I was confused, then I was excited," Brothers said from Ottawa. "I was like, 'Oh, so you're saying there's a chance.'"

Teams in the Pre-Trials Direct-Entry event qualified based on their world curling team ranking as of July. Three of four returning players from declared 2020-21 lineups were required.

Other notable entries include Team Kerry Galusha, Team Jessie Hunkin (who's filling in at skip for new mom Robyn Silvernagle) and Team Laurie St-Georges. Six of the eight men's entries are Winnipeg-based teams with Team Shaun Meachem (Saskatoon) and Team Vincent Roberge (Etchemin, Que.) the only exceptions.

Five men's teams have already secured entry into the main Trials. They include Team Brendan Bottcher, Team John Epping, Team Brad Gushue, Team Brad Jacobs and Team Kevin Koe.

Four women's teams have also booked their tickets for Saskatoon. They include Team Kerri Einarson, Team Tracy Fleury, Team Rachel Homan and Team Jennifer Jones.

Team Matt Dunstone, Team Colton Flasch, Team Jason Gunnlaugson, Team Glenn Howard and Team Mike McEwen will be vying for the men's spots at the Canadian Curling Trials Direct-Entry Event. The women's field includes Team Suzanne Birt, Team Corryn Brown, Team Kelsey Rocque, Team Casey Scheidegger and Team Laura Walker.

Canada did not reach the podium in the men's or women's team competitions at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The 2022 Beijing Games are set for Feb. 4-20.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2021.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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