Team Nunavut withdraws from 2024 Scotties
With no teams registered for playdowns and the only active curling club in the territory already closed for the season, the Nunavut Curling Association has withdrawn from the Canadian women's curling championship.
Curling Canada made it official Monday with a news release that also confirmed the 18-team field at the Feb. 16-25 competition would remain intact with the addition of an extra wild-card entry.
"Obviously we would like to be a part of the Scotties every year but it just didn't work out this year," Nunavut Curling Association secretary-treasurer Peter Van Strien said from Iqaluit.
Van Strien, who's also president of the Iqaluit Curling Club, said a smaller pool of competitive players and the premature closure of the city's four-sheet facility were factors.
"The team we have sent the last few years, two of the players decided to take some time away from the team," he said. "That's like the backbone of the team, I would say.
"I know that others considered putting forward a team but I think they just decided they weren't quite ready."
The city-owned curling club in Nunavut's capital — which has an estimated population of about 9,700 — is generally open from October through March. However, the season ended last Sunday ahead of the ice plant's shutdown.
Over the coming months, the facility is set to be used as a backup location for a television production, Van Strien said.
"We knew that was coming but I think that factored into the decision," he said of the lack of registrants. "They just weren't sure they'd be able to train with a new team and be at the level they'd want to be at for the Scotties."
Nunavut first iced a team at the Hearts in 2016, a year after Curling Canada expanded the fields at its national playdowns to include entries from all provincial associations and territories.
Nunavut did not advance past the qualifying draw in '16 (1-2) or in 2017 (0-3). The territory was given a direct entry into the main field in 2018 when the qualification draw was dropped.
Since then, Nunavut has posted a 3-43 record at the Hearts with its last win coming in 2020.
"It's unfortunate that no one is going to be representing this year," said Donalda Mattie, who has coached Nunavut at seven editions of the women's nationals. "But the teams just didn't think that they could be prepared and ready to go. It's understandable for sure."
The territory regularly uses import players for its team entries at national playdowns. Shane Latimer, who's based in southern Ontario, will skip the Nunavut men's team at the March 1-10 Montana's Brier in Regina.
His team of Christian Smitheram, Brady St. Louis and Sheldon Wettig — who all either reside or were born in Iqaluit — beat Wade Kingdon's side in the final of last month's territorial playdowns.
Last year, Smitheram, St. Louis and Wettig teamed with skip Jake Higgs to post Nunavut's first-ever win at the Brier, ending a 44-game losing streak at the event.
Even though the territory is a curling minnow, Van Strien said inclusion at nationals has helped boost local interest in the sport.
"I think it's important for our younger players to see if there's a path for them to maybe go that they can play at a high level at national events," he said, adding he was confident Nunavut would return to the Hearts in 2025.
"I think it's good for the national events to have us there as well. It makes it special and a truly national event, which you don't get with a lot of other sports."
Mattie said Nunavut's program has made strides in recent seasons.
"Competing from the territory is a challenge because it's just so expensive to get out and do competitive bonspiels in the south," she said from Antigonish, N.S.
"But we've been practising over the years and doing as much as we possibly can when the opportunities presented themselves."
Teams skipped by Jennifer Jones, Rachel Homan and defending champion Kerri Einarson have already qualified for the Scotties. Jones and Homan secured spots based on their top-three positions in last season's rankings.
With Nunavut out of the mix, the two highest-ranked teams — instead of just one — that don't reach nationals via provincial and territorial championships will round out the Hearts field at Calgary's WinSport Event Centre.
"Obviously we have (fewer) players to draw on and stuff so sometimes we'll have a situation that comes up like this where we don't have all the players we need to play in all the events," said Van Strien.
"But I think it's great for the sport to have everybody — all the areas of Canada — invited."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 8, 2024.
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