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Canada's Einarson aims to reach top step of Pan Continental podium

Kerri Einarson Kerri Einarson - The Canadian Press

Kerri Einarson has been a force on the Canadian women's curling scene in recent years with four straight national titles — and counting — on her resume.

She's hoping to start matching those strong domestic results at major international competitions.

Her Manitoba-based foursome will wear Canada colours starting Sunday at the Pan Continental Curling Championships in Kelowna, B.C. The event serves as a world championship qualifier for countries outside Europe.

"When you get an opportunity to represent Canada on the world stage in Canada, it's a pretty special moment," Einarson said. "You want to take (advantage) of those opportunities when they come."

Veteran skip Brad Gushue of St. John's, N.L., will guide the Canadian men's team at the Kelowna Curling Club.

Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Harris will go for a record fifth straight Scotties Tournament of Hearts title in February.

She has yet to reach the top step on a World Curling Federation podium. Her first planned appearance at the world women's championship was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She lost a playoff qualifier in 2021 and took world bronze in '22 and '23. Einarson also settled for a third-place finish at the inaugural Pan Continental last fall.

"We definitely want to improve on our bronze from last year," Einarson said. "That's our goal."

Einarson, ranked second in the world behind Switzerland's Silvana Tirinzoni, will be a favourite along with Japan's Satsuki Fujisawa, South Korea's Eunji Gim and American Tabitha Peterson.

The A Division also includes New Zealand's Jessica Smith, Mexico's Adriana Camarena, Australia's Jennifer Westhagen and Cynthia Lu of Taiwan.

As host, Canada has an automatic entry at the March 16-24 world women's championship in Sydney, N.S.

Gushue, Mark Nichols, E.J. Harnden and Geoff Walker will be under more pressure in the eight-team men's draw. A top-five finish will be required to book Canada's spot in the March 30-April 7 world playdowns in Schaffhausen, Switzerland.

"We're just going to approach it like any other event and try to get to the playoffs," Gushue said. "Then once you get in the playoffs, you (need) to win a couple games. Not knowing our competition as well, I think that's all we can do."

Gushue's side won the Pan Continental last year in convincing fashion, topping South Korea’s Byeong Jin Jeong 8-1 in the final at Calgary.

The Canadian side will be podium favourites along with American Korey Dropkin (who will throw fourth for skip Andrew Stopera) and Japan's Riku Yanagisawa.

Gushue will open play Sunday afternoon against South Korea's Jongduk Park. Other A Division teams include Taiwan's Randolph Shen, Australia's Jay Merchant, Guyana's Rayad Husain and New Zealand's Anton Hood.

The inaugural Pan Continental was held at the 2,500-seat Markin MacPhail Centre but attendance was sparse. The WCF elected to hold this year's competition in a 12-sheet curling club instead.

"To jump back to a club, it's certainly something — I wouldn't say I'm worried about it — but it may be a bit of an adjustment for us," said Gushue, who primarily plays on arena ice. "Typically curling club ice is a little straighter and the rocks aren't as consistent.

"I really don't know what to expect."

In the B Division, there will be an eight-team men's draw and a six-team women's field. The B winners will advance to the A Division next year and the last-place teams in the A Division will be relegated.

Einarson's first game is Sunday morning against Taiwan. Teams will play a round-robin format ahead of the semifinals starting Thursday night.

"We're going to approach as if we're playing any top team in the world," Einarson said. "You can't take any team lightly. We're definitely not going to do that.

"So we're just going to come in, play our game, focus on ourselves and make some curling shots."

Play continues through Nov. 4.

Before 2022, the Americas Challenge and Pacific-Asia Curling Championships were used as world championship qualification routes. The European Curling Championships will also serve as a world qualifier next month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2023.

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