Scotties Tournament of Hearts: Draw 8 - Saskatchewan 5, Manitoba 4
For the second consecutive year Laura Walker is off to a 3-1 start at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
This time, however, her family support has expanded by one with five-month-old son Liam on board inside the Calgary curling bubble at Canada Olympic Park.
"I think I'm the only one who has a baby here so I'm very unique in that sense," Walker told the media after her Alberta rink out of the Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton routed Northern Ontario's Team Krysta Burns Sunday morning to improve to 3-0.
Walker dropped her first game of the national championship later in the evening, a close fought 6-5 decision to Ontario's Rachel Homan.
Due to the pandemic, Curling Canada has strict health and safety protocols for this year's Scotties, including no family allowed inside the bubble. Although, exceptions are made to players with newborns. Walker also has her husband Geoff Walker, lead for Team Brad Gushue, staying with her this week to help look after Liam.
A lot of curlers have good reason to proclaim boredom at this year's Canadian championship since they must remain in their hotels rooms by themselves when not competing or practicing. No restaurants. No walks. No in-person team meetings.
However, the 30-year-old Walker is not having a hard time staying busy when not on the ice.
"There's never a dull moment. If he [Liam] wasn't here, I'd probably be just lounging around watching Free Britney documentaries," joked Walker. "He at least keeps me on my toes and busy. It helps to have Geoff here. But, keeping a baby alive every day is pretty much what I'm here doing and curling in between."
As for the on-ice action, Team Walker have started on a similar path as the 2020 Scotties in Moose Jaw, Sask., with wins in their first three games. They proceeded to drop their next four contests against stiffer competition last year, missing the championship round all together.
Despite the same record, the skip feels her foursome is in a better position to succeed this time around.
"It looks the same as far as our record goes, but it doesn't look the same as far as what's happened out there on the ice," said Walker. "I probably played the best three games of the season in my first three games last year and look where that got me. These past few games we've faced a little bit of adversity. I missed some key shots and we had our backs up against the wall a couple of times. So I think that's actually going to be really good for us moving forward."
In the Sunday night game, Walker and Homan traded singles for the first nine ends before Homan scored the game's first deuce in the 10th. Walker and Homan won a Canadian junior title together in 2010. Homan is playing this year's Scotties eight months pregnant with her second child.
The Walker rink has a different look to it as well in Calgary. Regular lead Nadine Scotland is pregnant and elected to stay home, leading to the additions of best buddies Rachel Brown and Dana Ferguson, who are serving as lead and alternate, respectively.
Walker suggested Ferguson get some playing time in during Sunday's game against Northern Ontario. Ferguson played the last end after Alberta had more or less secured the victory, but elected not to come in earlier after seeing how well the chemistry was working for Team Walker.
"I think it says a lot not just about our team dynamic, but about Dana. She's doing an incredible job at that coaching role that she's taken on and she's really enjoying it," explained Walker. "We're learning so much from her and getting so much out of her in that position. She can see that we're gelling out there for sure. I think that's really big of her to see that out there and be like 'no, I'm good here. I'm good at my position.' So I think that says a lot about everyone."