THUNDER BAY, Ont. — A steal of three in the fourth end put Krista McCarville in the driver’s seat but her Northern Ontario rink knew it couldn’t take its foot off the gas during a 7-3 win over Chelsea Carey in Friday night’s opening draw of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
"I think we get even a little bit more nervous just because there's so many ends left in the game," said third Kendra Lilly. "It was huge and it helped a lot, but we by no means thought the game was in the bag at that point.
"If anything, we wanted to bear down even more to make sure we didn't lose that lead."
The 18-rink competition to crown the Canadian women’s curling champion is being held at the Fort Williams Gardens. Due to COVID-19 concerns the event is being held in an empty arena so there were no fans or media in the building to watch McCraville’s home-town rink win its first game.
"It's different,” said McCarville, who did hear some applause from volunteers. "It's super disappointing. We want the cheers out there.
"The positive thing was it was easy to hear everybody. We miss our fans and we wish they could be out there for us."
In other games, a positive COVID test forced Tracy Fleury into isolation. That resulted in third Selena Njegovan taking over skip duties for the Wild Card 1 rink from Manitoba in its game against Andrea Crawford of New Brunswick.
Fleury came up short on a draw with her final rock to give Crawford a 6-5 win.
With Fleury as skip, her sister-in-law Robyn Njegovan, who was the alternate, moved to third. Second Liz Fyfe and lead Kristin MacCuish played their normal positions.
"It was unexpected," Fleury said about the change. "I play with Liz and Kristin and see their releases all the time.
"It was a little different having Robyn in the lineup but we have had some practices at home and we did some practising today, so it wasn’t bad."
Fleury leads both the world and Canadian Team Ranking Systems (CTRS). She lost in the final of the Olympic Trials and Manitoba playoffs.
After testing positive Monday, Fleury could return to play as early as Saturday.
"The good news is she feels well and the positive test was from long enough ago that she could join us as early as this weekend," her team said on social media.
Crawford was pleased with the way her team from Fredericton performed in beating one of the tournament's top rinks.
"It really didn't matter who we were playing tonight," said the 36-year-old who is playing in her 10th Scotties. "we just really wanted to come in and have a really good performance for ourselves and set the stage for the week.
"There were just a few little things we talked about focusing on and I think we did a good job on that tonight."
In other matches, Susanne Birt of P.E.I., defeated Brigitte MacPhail of Nunavut 12-2 in eight ends while Emma Miskew, who is skipping Rachel Homan’s Wild Card 3 Ontario rink, defeated Sarah Hill of Newfoundland & Labrador 10-5 in nine ends.
Homan, who has led Ontario to three Scotties titles, will miss this year’s competition because she's competing at the Winter Olympics, pairing with John Morris in mixed doubles.
There is history between Carey and McCarville. Carey, who was representing Alberta at the time, defeated McCarville in the final of the 2016 Scotties.
McCarville used a steal of one in the third end to take a 2-0 lead against Carey’s Wild Card 2 rink from Regina. Carey failed on a last-rock draw in the fourth to give up the three points.
"I think all of us made really good shots that end and we put pressure on them," said McCarville, who was third in 2010.
The Saskatchewan team skipped by Penny Barker said vis social media coach Mark Lang was also in protocol. Saskatchewan’s first game is Saturday night against Fleury.
TSN analyst Russ Howard also tested positive and is in isolation.
This year’s event will feature a modified 18-team draw and the return of the Page playoff system.
The tournament features two pools of nine, teams seeded based on their final standing on the Canadian Team Ranking System as of Jan. 10, 2022.
There will be an eight-game round robin with the top three teams in each pool advancing to an expanded Page playoff system. The winner will be decided Feb. 6.
There 's a chance spectators might be allowed for the final three days for the event that ends Feb. 6.
The Scotties champion will represent Canada at the 2022 Women’s Curling Championship in Prince George, B.C., from March 19-27.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2022.