The hotel walls become all too familiar after a while.
But Island athletes are getting used to the bubble, or hub, life during the pandemic.
Pacific FC did it in Canadian Premier League pro soccer last summer in Charlottetown. There is speculation the Victoria Royals of the Western Hockey League are headed to a hub in Kelowna. Goaltender Dylan Garand of Langford was bubbled tight in winning 2021 world junior hockey silver with Canada in Edmonton.
But curler Steph Jackson-Baier of Victoria will do them one better with a double-bubble performance in Calgary. It begins today in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts women’s national championship and will continue with the Canadian mixed doubles championship.
The Calgary bubble will feature three 2021 national championships — the Scotties, Tim Hortons Brier men’s championship and Canadian mixed doubles — followed by the 2021 world men’s championship. The events begin today with the Scotties and run through the men’s worlds final April 11.
“It’s been a challenging year, but we are happy just to play,” said Jackson-Baier, 34, who has been part of eight B.C. championship rinks over her career.
“The organizers in Calgary are following the templates used last summer by the NHL and recently in the world junior hockey championships [both played amid bubbles in Edmonton]. All sports are trying to find the best way to do things.”
Jackson-Baier is part of two of the three B.C. rinks already in, or headed to, the Calgary championship bubble. Since there was limited opportunity for playdowns during the pandemic, Curl B.C. is sending its defending 2020 provincial champions to Calgary.
Jackson-Baier, the 2014 B.C. champion, is the fifth on Corryn Brown’s Kamloops rink that is representing B.C. in the Scotties. As defending B.C. mixed doubles champion, along with fellow Victoria Curling Club player Corey Chester, Jackson-Baier will remain in the bubble for that championship.
“Our mixed doubles nationals were cancelled last March just 12 hours before we were due to leave for Manitoba,” said Jackson-Baier. So, it will be the completion of unfinished business for Jackson-Baier and Chester. Mixed doubles curling made its Winter Olympics debut at Pyeongchang in 2018 and will be on the roster again next February at Beijing 2022. It follows a trend in which pared-down versions of sports have become popular. The Langford-based Canadian women’s team won rugby sevens bronze at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics and three-on-three basketball makes its Olympic debut this year in Tokyo.
“Mixed doubles is so quick-paced. It’s like curling put on fast-forward mode. It requires a different approach,” said Jackson-Baier.
Depending on how much more curling will be played this year, the mixed-doubles nationals in Calgary could go a long way in the Winter Olympics selection process for Beijing 2022.
Jackson-Baier’s family is no stranger to the Winter Games. Her mother, Elaine Dagg-Jackson of Victoria, has coached Canada in six Olympics. The sport runs deep in her family at the highest levels. Dad Glen Jackson is a former world junior champion and her late grandfather, Lyall Dagg, was a Brier and world champion. But none went through a stretch in curling such as this. Jackson-Baier is in Calgary following an array of quarantines and negative COVID-19 tests. “It’s basically been work, groceries, training,” she said, of life during the pandemic.
“I’ve not been going too many other places. I am happy Victoria Curling Club was able to remain open at least for practice ice [league play was cancelled]. It’s one of only four curling clubs in B.C. that stayed open.”
The Steve Laycock rink from Vernon and Kelowna will represent B.C. in the 2021 Brier in Calgary. The other rink members are third Jim Cotter, second Andrew Nerpin and lead Rick Sawatsky. Tyler Tardi, three-time Canadian and two-time world junior champion, is joining the team as fifth. The Tardi Langley and Victoria rink was silver medallist in the 2020 B.C. championship.