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Canada closes in on playoff spot at women's curling worlds

The Canadian Press

3/21/2012 10:14:54 PM

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. -- Their team back together again, Canada looked comfortable at the women's world curling championship as they closed in on a playoff spot.

At 7-2, Heather Nedohin's Edmonton team was assured of at least a tiebreaker berth when the preliminary round concludes Thursday. The Canadians finish against Italy and Scotland.

Second Jessica Mair was back in the lineup Wednesday for a 5-4 win over Germany and a key 7-5 victory against South Korea. Mair sat out the previous day's games with a stomach illness.

"We're obviously always thinking about playoffs and what we need to get to the playoffs," Nedohin said. "I knew today was a big-win day and we got two of them."

Canada was idle in Wednesday's late draw, but Sweden and South Korea won their late matches to move into a tie for first with Nedohin's rink.

Sweden's Margaretha Sigfridsson scored one in the 10th end for a 3-2 win over Scotland's Eve Muirhead, while South Korea's Ji-Sun Kim scored three in the ninth to put the exclamation point on a 9-4 win over Germany's Melanie Robillard.

Switzerland's Mirjam Ott was alone in fourth after Draw 14. She dropped out of the lead pack to 6-3 following a loss to Denmark in the afternoon draw.

The top four teams advance to the Page playoff and ties for fourth are solved by tiebreaker games.

Alternate Amy Nixon filled in admirably for the two games and four ends Mair was sidelined. Canada's chemistry was that much better, however, with their regular second back in the game.

"All season we play 100 games with Jessica. For her to go out, it changes the dynamic and communication," third Beth Iskiw explained. "When she comes back in, there's that comfort and we have a real trust in each other and the job each of us has to do."

The win over South Korea had playoff implications. Should Canada finish with the same record among playoff teams, the hosts would rank higher.

Canada, South Korea, Sweden and Switzerland had the inside track on playing beyond Thursday, but the United States and Denmark and Scotland were still in the hunt for tiebreaker berths at 5-4.

The Americans won their fifth in a row Wednesday afternoon after opening 0-4.

"We've never slouched down and said 'it's all over,"' skip Allison Pottinger said. "We're willing to fight. We need two more wins."

Denmark's Lene Nielson improved her chances of advancing with a 5-4 win over Italy in the late draw.

Russia remained mathmatically alive with a 9-6 win over the Czech Republic. At 4-5, Russia and Scotland would need everything to go right Thursday in order to get a fourth-place tiebreaker.

Mair didn't require intravenous treatment that curlers at the national men's and women's championships underwent when they suffered the same virulent bug.

"I'm not feeling nauseous anymore," Mair said. "I just feel a little bit weak because I haven't eaten a lot of food."

Nedohin swept for Mair a few times versus Germany, but more to stay warm than give her second a break.

Nedohin has a circulatory condition called Raynaud's and she's susceptible to losing feeling in her fingers when she gets cold. The Canadian skip rarely takes off her gloves during a game.

"When we play in bonspiels in the barns, I call them, I freeze," she said. "I have to do a lot of different things to counteract it. I've had it as early as the third or fourth end where I'm losing my sensation."

"I find I lose my sense of draw because I'm a touch player. I have no problems here. It's a warm environment."

The team's cohesion is crucial at the world championships. At the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, coaches and alternates are allowed to sit on chairs at one end of the ice behind the scoreboard. They provide instant feedback and reinforcement between ends.

Coaches and alternates are not allowed on the playing surface at the world championship, which makes chemistry between the four even more important, according to Nedohin.

"It's just the four of us on the ice," she pointed out. "When there's adversity or somebody is struggling or things are questioned, we are the four that figure it out."

Nedohin made a key tap for three in the sixth end against Germany's Melanie Robillard to take control of the game.

Iskiw, Mair and lead Laine Peters had lower percentages than their South Korean counterparts in the earlier game, but Nedohin picked her team up with key shots.

Her double takeout in the sixth end helped her score two with her last shot and lead 6-4.

The petite Kim -- the top end of her broom is almost level with her shoulder -- is as animated, intense and loud as Nedohin.

The South Koreans are already ramping up winter sport preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. There are only two dedicated curling facilities for 2,000 curlers in South Korea, but four are under construction, according to the World Curling Federation.

South Korean women have appeared in four world curling championships with Kim skipping the team three times. She went 3-8 in 2009 and 2-9 last year.