SYDNEY, N.S. — Chelsea Carey and her teammates had a purpose when they formed a new rink ahead of this season.
Their goal was to become a solid team that could grind out tough victories when needed. The Alberta champs have done just that this week at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
Carey opened the preliminary round with four one-point victories in a row. The last three wins were more comfortable, the latest decision a 12-3 rout of Quebec's Gabrielle Lavoie on Wednesday at Centre 200.
Carey was alone in top spot in the Pool A standings at 7-0.
"We've had to really battle through parts of this season and we've all stuck together, put our nose to the grindstone and done that," Carey said. "This week is no different."
Carey had secured a spot in the championship round before her latest win. Ontario's Rachel Homan and Northern Ontario's Krista McCarville earned their berths with victories Wednesday afternoon.
Homan booked her ticket with an 8-6 win over British Columbia's Sarah Wark. McCarville joined Homan at 5-2 after a 7-5 extra-end victory over Manitoba's Tracy Fleury.
"For some reason when our team's back is against the wall, we seem to play better," McCarville said. "We bear down and we make those shots."
Fleury and Wark (both 4-3) will meet in a tiebreaker Thursday morning for the fourth and final spot.
Prince Edward Island's Suzanne Birt (5-2) and Team Wild Card's Casey Scheidegger (6-1) had already locked up two of the four Pool B spots entering the preliminary round finale Wednesday night.
Saskatchewan's Robyn Silvernagle and Team Canada's Jennifer Jones won morning games to set themselves up for win-and-you're-in evening games.
As it turned out, Yukon's Nicole Baldwin locked up the berths for them when she posted a 13-6 win over Kerry Galusha of the Northwest Territories (3-4).
That result ensured Jones (4-3) and Silvernagle (5-2) would make the top-four cut. Scheidegger ended up holding off Jones 7-4 while Silvernagle topped Birt 7-3.
"I know with Jenn, she's never out of a game," Scheidegger said. "We knew we'd have to keep the pressure on until the very end because she has such a strong team."
Jones, who was bothered by left eye irritation, scored a deuce in the ninth end to make it interesting. Scheidegger won with a single in the 10th.
"We're feather ticking. I just missed a runback by probably a centimetre for three," said Jones. "So we're close and if we can turn it around, I like where we're at."
It was Yukon's first-ever main draw Scotties win in a non-placement game. New Brunswick's Andrea Crawford beat Kelli Sharpe of Newfoundland and Labrador 10-5 in the other evening matchup.
Records from the preliminary round carry over with the top four teams advancing to the Page Playoffs on Saturday. The semifinal and final will be played Sunday.
Carey, third Sarah Wilkes, second Dana Ferguson and lead Rachel Brown hold the No. 4 spot in the Canadian rankings. The Calgary skip's father, Dan Carey, is handling coaching duties.
The rink won the Canad Inns Women's Classic in October but has struggled at the Grand Slams. However, the team outplayed a tough field in the recent Alberta playdowns and has come through so far at the nationals.
"We've had a ton of close games that we've had to really battle through," Carey said. "We had some games where we let teams back in and it was emotionally a bit difficult and we had to hang in there."
The Calgary skip won the Scotties in 2016 with a different lineup. Carey said she's embracing the pressure and challenge of going for another title.
"My dad used to tell me when I was a kid that when you're nervous it's your body telling you that you're ready to do something," Carey said. "I've always tried to hang on with that. It's not necessarily a fun feeling while you're in it but you learn to deal with those nerves and you learn to enjoy it.
"That means you have an opportunity to do something great."
Crawford finished at 3-4 in Pool B, followed by Sharpe and Baldwin at 1-6. In Pool A, Nova Scotia's Jill Brothers finished at 2-5, ahead of Nunavut's Jenine Bodner (1-6) and Lavoie (0-7).
The Scotties winner will represent Canada at the March 16-24 world women's curling championship in Silkeborg, Denmark.
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