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Bob Weeks

TSN Senior Reporter

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She may have hobbled to the finish line, but Shannon Kleibrink is proud to be representing Alberta at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, one more time.

The veteran skip battled a sore back to guide her five-player team through the Alberta finals and is headed to St. Catharines, Ont., for her fifth visit to the Canadian women’s curling championship, which starts Saturday.

“It’s amazing. It was very unexpected,” she said of winning the provincial final at the end of January. “We haven’t played as much as a lot of the teams that will be there this year so it’s been some frantic practicing now that we’re Team Alberta.”

Kliebrink’s team includes Lisa Eyamie, Sarah Wilkes and Alison Thiessen, all who are making their first trip to the Scotties. The rink played a limited schedule of eight events on the World Curling Tour this season, and while there were no wins along the way, it did cash cheques at six of them.

At the provincial final, the squad expanded by one to add former Canadian champion Heather Nedohin. She was called in on an emergency basis when Kleibrink’s ailing back wouldn’t co-operate. Nedohin didn’t miss a beat as the substitute skip, stepping in when needed as the team sailed through the round-robin and the playoffs.

“It’s super unexpected,” Kleibrink said of the five-player win, “but [Heather and I] are just so happy for the three girls on the team. It’s their first time there. I remember that first time well; it’s going to be an exciting week for them.”

The rotation of skips will continue in St. Catharines with Kleibrink saying she will limit her play as she continues to receive treatment for the troublesome back.

“I don’t think I could play the potential 13 games,” she admitted. “I’ll probably be on a one-game-a-day schedule.”

This marks the fifth trip to the Scotties for Kleibrink and while she’s come close to winning, finishing runner-up in 2008, she has yet to get to the top step of the podium. The Okotoks, Alta., product, who owns a bronze medal from the 2006 Olympic Games, may be 48 and may be in the final ends of her competitive career but she is still reveling in another trip to what she calls the greatest show on ice.

“You feel like a rock star at the Scotties,” she stated. “It’s the big show. They can have as many other events as they want and they’re all really great too. The Slams are obviously awesome but there’s no big show like the Scotties.”

While it hasn’t been playing a lot on the World Curling Tour, the rink has done well enough to tentatively secure a spot in the next Olympic pre-trials competition slated for Summerside, PEI, this November (the qualifying teams will be announced officially at the end of this season). That event will send two teams into the Olympic trials to be held in Ottawa a month later. Kleibrink has been to three trials already and would love one more opportunity, although she admits it’s a long shot.

For now, she’ll concentrate on getting her Alberta team into the playoffs at the Scotties, no matter whether she’s on the ice or on the physical therapist’s table.