Sunday, February 24

A Heart This Big

I've been watching sports for a long time, and I've seen some amazing people do some amazing things. But I've never seen anything more amazing than what happened last week in Regina.

Saskatchewan's Michelle Englot was all ready for one magical week -- skipping the home team at a national championship, with a realistic chance to win. She was on the verge of playing for a title she wants very badly, one which has eluded her so far -- and doing it in front of friends and family.

Who could ask for more? The scene was set; the team was ready; the tournament of a lifetime was about to begin. And then the phone rang, and everything came crashing down. Michelle's father, Joe Englot, had passed away during the night.

What could she do? If the tournament were anywhere else, Michelle told the press, she would have gone home. But she was already home. There was no place to go. So the question was one of playing or not playing. And again there wasn't much of an option. Michelle would honour her commitments: to her team, to the event, and to her family. She would do it all -- or at least she would try.

Realistically, nobody could have done what Michelle Englot tried to do last week. Most of us can't even imagine trying to do something like that. Where would you find so much courage? Where would you get so much composure? Michelle only broke down in public once during the whole week -- when she was moved to tears by a standing ovation after a one-sided loss. Who wouldn't be moved by such a show of support?

One question follows another: Where would you get the energy? Where would you find the clarity? How could you compete at this level, against the top teams in the country, in the midst of a family tragedy? How could you handle the public spotlight and the private pain, all at the same time? How could you be gracious to strangers with microphones and cameras who would surround you after every game, asking questions about your family? I can't imagine doing any of that -- let alone doing all of it, not to mention winning some games along the way.

Much will be said of the playoffs, in which Sherry Middaugh missed a double and settled for bronze; in which Shannon Kleibrink missed a double and settled for silver. Much will be written about Jennifer Jones and her team, their run of eight straight wins, and their appearance at the World Championship. And rightly so, in my view. They've done some tremendous curling to get where they are now.

But let's not forget the example of grace and courage that we saw from the grieving Saskatchewan skip, who faced down much more than just granite and pebble and top-class opposition, and who left us with one more great mystery:

How can a woman this small have a heart this big?

Friday, February 22

"Now I Can Grieve"

Week ends in Heart-break

Murray McCormick, The Leader-Post
Published: Friday, February 22, 2008

It's over.

Michelle Englot's emotionally wrenching week as the hometown skip of Saskatchewan's team as the Canadian women's curling championship ended Thursday evening at the Brandt Centre with a 10-3 loss to Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink.

"In a sense, I'm glad that it is over," Englot said. "Now, I can grieve."

The defeat concluded seven days in the spotlight that no curler at the Scotties would have ever dreamed of having to endure. It started Feb. 15 when Joe Englot, Michelle's father, died of a heart attack at the family farm in Montmartre. He was 74.

Between then and last night, Englot played through her grief. She finished at 5-6 and won the support of a curling nation for the manner in which she dealt with totally unexpected adversity.

"It was the toughest week of my life but I made it through," Englot said before Thursday's late draw. "What is the song? 'What doesn't kill you can only make you stronger?'"

Englot, Darlene Kidd, Roberta Materi and Cindy Simmons were strong before the Scotties started. On Feb. 15, before Englot's world was shattered, they held a team meeting and were ready to toss rocks with some of the best teams in the country. It was Englot's sixth appearance at the Scotties and her first as a hometown skip. Englot's excitement about what lay ahead was noticeable.

"I really believe that had we played well and like we could, we could have won it," Englot said. "We know that we can beat the top teams. That was our goal before the beginning of the week."

The goal changed to surviving. Englot didn't miss an end while dealing with the death of her father. She only avoided one set of interviews Tuesday when she had to rush to Montmartre to attend the funeral service. Englot said she did consider stepping back and allowing alternate Lorie Kehler to fill in for her on Tuesday.

"We thought we had time to do everything and they had worked the funeral around my schedule," Englot said. "I was committed to playing the whole event."

She did all of the things that are required of a player at a national event. She had just one public breakdown -- Tuesday afternoon while being saluted with a standing ovation by the Brandt Centre crowd. Saskatchewan spent its badly needed bye attending the funeral. Englot returned to action Wednesday and lost both of her games to extend a losing streak to three games.

"I was emotionally drained (Wednesday)," Englot said. "Tuesday was a tough day. We didn't play well and it showed that I was drained. I did what I could and it wasn't enough."

Englot and Co. plan on remaining together for at least another year. After what it had been through this week, it would be shame to break up.

"They are some of my best friends and I can only believe this can make us closer as a team," Englot said.
© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008

"It Just Wasn't Our Turn This Year"

No miracle for host team

The Moose Jaw Times Herald | February 22, 2008

Moose Jaw’s Cindy Simmons and her Team Saskatchewan teammates knew they were going to need a miracle if they were to reach the playoffs at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

And it would seem if any team had earned a break or two, the Michelle Englot foursome were that rink — but unfortunately, fate just didn’t have anything good in store for the hometown favourites.

Even though Englot and her Regina Tartan rink of third Darlene Kidd, second Roberta Materi and lead Simmons turned in their best performance of the week in an 8-1 six-end route of P.E.I.’s Suzanne Gaudet, an 8-2 win by Quebec’s Marie-France Larouche over New Brunswick’s Sylvie Robideau in the same draw eliminated Team Sask from competition.

At best, Saskatchewan could finish at 6-5, the lowest any of the top four teams could finish was 7-4.

“We went into today’s game and played well, and it was nice to win handily for once, but all the things we needed to have happen today for us to make the tiebreaker didn’t happen,” Simmons said shortly after watching her team’s final playoff chances slip away.

“Our hopes weren’t that high going into today knowing what the other teams were up against, and things just didn’t turn out.”

With little to play for, Team Sask went on to a 10-3 loss against Alberta’s Shannon Kleibrink, who finished atop the round robin standings at 10-1.

“The way we’re looking at it is that only one team wins it all, and it just wasn’t our turn this year,” Simmons said.

With their swing at the Scotties finished for another season, Simmons plans to throw her support behind another family member the rest of the way — and not the one you might think, at least for the moment.

“I’ll start cheering for Alberta after tonight, my cousin (second Bronwen Saunders) plays for them, we have a nice family connection there, and we all know (lead) Chelsey (Bell), so we’ll be rooting for them,” Simmons said.

Other than that, it’s time for some rest and relaxation the rest of what has been an exceptionally trying week.

“I think we’re all mentally and physically tired after everything that’s happend, so it’ll be nice to be able to relax a bit,” Simmons said. “It’s disappointing given what we’d hoped for going into the event but it’s okay too. It’s been a pretty amazing experience.”

A big part of that was the support of the Brandt Centre fans, who went out of their way to give the Englot foursome all the help they could get.

“I couldn’t ask for a better first Scott for myself,” Simmons said. “The games were amazing, the atmosphere, it’s indescribable what the atmosphere was like on the ice to have a chance to play in front of such a perfect crowd.

“We were laughing because it’s funny just being piped out on the ice and people are clapping and we haven’t even started playing yet... the tingles and the amazing feeling you get out there is incredible.”

And as for the drive to return to the Scotties?

“I can see why (husband and four-time defending Tankard champion) Pat (Simmons) wants to get back so badly every year, it’s an amazing experience and something you want to be a part of as often as you can,” Simmons said. “So I know we’ll do what we can to get back again next year.”

"Maybe Tomorrow We'll Figure Out What My Job Is"

Kehler challenged by her role

Murray McCormick, The Leader-Post
Published: Friday, February 22, 2008

Lorie Kehler had one of the best seats in the Brandt Centre at the Canadian women's curling championship.

She was the fifth with Saskatchewan's Michelle Englot, which provided Kehler with one of those elevated chairs behind the scoreboards at the home end. Kehler enjoyed the view and her role with Team Saskatchewan at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

"It has been fun and it was kind of like being in a fishbowl," Kehler said after Thursday's 8-1 victory over Prince Edward Island's Suzanne Gaudet at the Brandt Centre. "There has been a lot going on and it's a great event to be involved with. I thought that my Scotties years were over, so it was nice to have another."

Kehler had been involved in five other Canadian women's championship with Englot. Kehler played lead, second and third with Englot at those events, which Kehler said was a little easier than being one of the support team.

"You haven't any control over anything," Kehler said. "At least when you're out there you can take it out with you sweeping or just being there. It's a very different role."

Englot, Darlene Kidd, Roberta Materi and Cindy Simmons already had well-defined roles before winning the provincial championship. Anita Ford worked as the team's coach before the Scotties. The squad, which is well-organized, was looking for support and encouragement from its alternate.

"Anita had worked with them before, so she had a bit of role already," Kehler said. "As far as running and managing things, they have that covered. They really didn't need anyone."

Englot appreciated having Kehler as part of the team, especially during a challenging week.

"Lorie and I are very close and we always have been," said Englot, who was 5-5 heading into Thursday's final draw against Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink. "We couldn't have picked a better person to be our fifth in this situation."

Kehler filled the role as a cheerleader and as a shoulder to lean on when the emotions grew to be too much for the members of the Englot team. Kehler also filed a daily dairy to that provided insights into Saskatchewan's team away from the pressure of the Scotties.

"Anita and I tried to scout rocks and see what everybody else was throwing," Kehler said. "Michelle pretty well has her mind made up and there isn't a lot of input from me. I'm just a big supporter."

Kehler said reaching the 5-5 mark was huge. It improved their performance in Sudbury in 2001 by one win.

"You always want to come back with a winning record," Kehler said. "I remember that 4-7 was really tough coming home. You just feel that you let everybody down. You want to go out on a winning note."
© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008

It's always interesting to see what a fifth thinks about the job. Here's Lorie Kehler herself, writing on the same subject, just a few days ago:
Speaking of my job, that has been a topic of debate.

What is my job? Certainly not remembering what rocks/sheets we have been on, or are heading to. Without Anita’s magic book I would be lost.

Playing, not my job unless an emergency, this is the girls' show.

Slight emergency yesterday when I left my glasses at home, Roberta was quite concerned that it would cut into my crowd watching. Now that is my job, but as Joan Stricker can attest to, I could do that when even when I was curling.

I told Roberta not to worry as my glasses were being hand delivered by my hubby and in the meantime, I could borrow coaches’ binoculars, surely she could do without them for an end or two.

How important can determining how the other teams are matching rocks and throwing rock on certain sheets anyway, which by the way is not my job, Anita can pick out what rock anyone on any sheet is throwing and I am still focussing the darn binoculars. Maybe I just needed the pressure of needing them for crowd watching.

Then last night, I found a smelly, worn out, old pair of mitts that I thought Bert had had since the 2001 Scott in Sudbury, and I thought finally I can show my worth to Bert. But sadly, I was wrong. Sorry to whomever’s smelly, worn out, old pair of mitts I stole, check the yellow rock dressing room.

Maybe tomorrow we’ll figure out what my job is.

Thursday, February 21

Thursday: Last Draws

In the afternoon draw, I'll be cheering for Canada vs Manitoba, Ontario vs Nova Scotia, New Brunswick vs Quebec, and Saskatchewan vs. PEI. If all my teams win, Saskatchewan will still be in the hunt for a tie-breaker.

UPDATE: Saskatchewan and Ontario remembered to win, but Quebec and Manitoba forgot to lose. So tonight's game is about pride, not playoffs.

SECOND UPDATE: The evening game against Alberta started tough and just got tougher; it ended early, and rightly so.

The fans gave the team another standing ovation as they left the ice, but unlike Tuesday afternoon, it didn't seem to surprise or overwhelm anybody. Michelle, Darlene, Roberta and Cindy smiled and waved and kept moving -- right out the door, with the most admirable 5-6 record ever compiled.

A Smile

Bryan Schlosser caught Michelle smiling. Photo courtesy Regina Leader-Post

"We're Here To Curl"

Englot team turns focus to curling

Murray McCormick, Saskatchewan News Network; Regina Leader-Post
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2008

REGINA -- Michelle Englot has attempted to take control of the off-ice distractions at the Canadian women's curling championship.

Englot returned to action Wednesday at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts after attending a funeral service for her father, Joe Englot, in Montmartre on Tuesday. She was beaten 7-5 by Heather Strong of Newfoundland-Labrador on Wednesday and proclaimed to the media that was she was fine.

"The funeral went fine and we're here to curl," Englot said after falling to 4-4.

Englot and her teammates -- Darlene Kidd, Roberta Materi and Cindy Simmons -- have formed a unified front in dealing with the media's questions regarding the squad's off-ice emotions.

"Our team motto is, 'The funeral is done, we've said our good-byes and we're going to focus on curling,'" said Simmons. "We have to keep our heads into the game and not worry about the media."

Joe Englot, 74, died Friday at the family farm in Montmartre after suffering a heart attack. Englot has played through her grief and was able to keep her emotions in check. That was until after Tuesday's 8-6 loss to Nova Scotia's Mary-Anne Arsenault. The Brandt Centre crowd saluted Englot with a standing ovation, which led to the skip breaking down.

"It was just getting caught up in the moment," Englot said. "We knew that we had some tough things to deal with that day and we've dealt with them. We've decided to concentrate on curling and that's all that we're thinking about."

Englot fell behind 6-2 to Newfoundland-Labrador after five ends after giving up steals of one in the fourth and fifth ends and a steal of two in the sixth. She closed the gap to 6-5 in the eighth but that was as close as she could get.

"We were chasing them the whole first half of the game," Englot said. "We turned it around and finally had them chasing us. It was too little, too late."
© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2008

Sask Playoff Hopes Are Slim

Sask.'s playoff hopes need help

Englot loses twice on Wednesday to see record fall to 4-5

Murray McCormick, Saskatchewan News Network; Regina Leader-Post
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2008

REGINA -- Michelle Englot, who has dealt with more adversity off the ice than any skip should have to endure, is in dire straits at the Canadian women's curling championship.

Englot lost two games on Wednesday at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and needs plenty of help to make even a tiebreaker. Englot (4-5) is tied with Team Canada and B.C. for seventh heading into the final day of round-robin play.

"We need help -- big help," Englot proclaimed after losing 7-5 to Manitoba's Jennifer Jones at the Brandt Centre. "Five losses are probably too much but I haven't looked at who plays who and whatever to see if 6-5 would make it -- not that it matters at this point.

"It's a matter of pride in trying to get a better record. We'll come out and play hard (today)."

Englot and her Tartan crew of Darlene Kidd, Roberta Materi and Cindy Simmons opened play Wednesday in control of their fate. A couple of wins may have moved Saskatchewan into the playoff picture with a bit of cushion. Instead, Englot was beaten 7-5 by Heather Strong of Newfoundland-Labrador and then lost to Jones in the evening draw.

The evening loss may prove to be critical because both teams entered the game at 4-4. Teams with 6-5 records have made tiebreakers five times since the Page Playoffs were instituted in 1995. Those with 5-6 marks have never advanced.

"We were confident with four losses going into the game that we would be able to pull off a tiebreaker," Kidd said. "After this one, there has to be a lot of icing on the cake if we're to make playoffs."

Englot was back on the ice Wednesday after having two draws off. She left immediately after Tuesday's 8-4 loss to Nova Scotia's Mary-Anne Arsenault to attend her father's funeral in Montmartre. Joe Englot, 74, died Friday at the family home in Montmartre of a heart attack.

Englot stated the team was finished dealing with questions about her father's death and wanted to concentrate on curling. She was focused Wednesday but couldn't seem to recapture the momentum that led to a four-game winning streak which followed losses in her opening two games.

"It's just us," Kidd said. "The ice has been the same every game. The ice is a little bit quicker in the middle ends but it's us not doing what we should be doing."

Englot, who has lost three straight, hasn't had time to do any scoreboard watching.

"I've been glancing at the standings but there have been a lot of other things going on," said Englot, who was 4-7 in 2001 at her last Scotties in Sudbury. "It's hard to say what is going to happen but typically you never know what happens until the last game."

The seventh and eighth ends were the keys in the evening matchup. Jones was able to draw for three in the seventh to grab a 5-4 lead. In the eighth, Englot was heavy on both of her draws. The misses allowed Jones to steal two and assume control.

"We've been slipping deep all week and not controlling the front of the rings," Englot said. "That makes a big difference."

Englot has a bye this morning. She returns at 2 p.m. to play Prince Edward Island's Suzanne Gaudet (3-6) and opposes Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink (8-1) at 7 p.m. Englot's fate could be decided before she throws her first rock.

"That could be but we still want to play hard and have a record over .500," Englot said.
© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2008

Wednesday, February 20

Saskatchewan Skip Inspires Crowd At Scotties

Team Saskatchewan lost both their games Wednesday. Their record stands at 4-5 and they will need a miracle or three to reach the playoffs. But the results hardly matter anymore. Their display of courage and class has been overwhelming, and humbling.

Saskatchewan Skip Inspires Crowd At Scotties

By Nigel Maxwell | News Talk 980
Updated February 20, 2008 - 3:47pm

An emotional day Wednesday for the Team Saskatchewan Skip at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Less than 24 hours after her father's funeral, Michelle Englot was back on the ice with her team for their game against Newfoundland/ Labrador. The inspired crowd showed their appreciation and respect by giving the team a huge ovation during the introduction of the game.

Watching from the stands was Englot's mom Norma. Norma says she is very proud of her daughter, and knows like the rest of the family her daughter will find the strength to play.

Englot's son Brett was also in the stands. Before the game Brett said he gave his mom a hug and told her to keep battling; and to use the crowd to stay strong.

Not The Streak They Had In Mind

Not the streak Englot likely wants

Murray McCormick, Leader-Post
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Saskatchewan's Michelle Englot is on another streak at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Englot lost her second straight game on Wednesday, this time dropping a 7-5 decision to Heather Strong of Newfoundland-Labrador. Englot opened the Scotties with two losses, then rattled off four straight wins before leaving Tuesday to attend her father's funeral in Montmartre. She had a bye Tuesday night and Wednesday morning before returning to action on Wedneday.

Englot fell to 4-4 and likely needs help to make the playoffs. She's to play Manitoba's Jennifer Jones in tonight's draw. She concludes the round-robin portion of the Scotties on Thursday with games against Prince Edward Island's Suzanne Gaudet and Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink.

Englot struggled on Wednesday, facing a number of rocks in the house. Her team did play well, which gives her something to build on tonight.
© Leader-Post 2008

"I Learned To Play With My Dad"

Saskatchewan's Englot battles grief at Canadian women's curling championship

REGINA - Michelle Englot is fighting the fatigue that accompanies grief at the Canadian women's curling championship, and her battle is not over yet.

After playing two games Tuesday at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Saskatchewan skip and her teammates were heading immediately to Englot's hometown of Montmartre, 90 kilometres east of Regina, for her father's funeral. Joel Englot, 74, died of a heart attack the day before the Scotties Tournament of Hearts opened.

It wasn't surprising that Saskatchewan opened the tournament 0-2 after such a shock, but the Regina team recovered to win their fourth game in a row Tuesday morning - a 6-5 decision against the Territories - before falling 8-4 to Nova Scotia.

At 4-3, the host team was still in contention for one of four playoff berths at the conclusion of the round robin Thursday.

But Ontario's Sherry Middaugh and Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink were tied atop the 12-team field at 6-1 after Tuesday's play.

Englot, third Darlene Kidd, second Roberta Materi and lead Cindy Simmons were able to regain their emotional balance during the tournament, but were preparing for a funeral that could sap their energy again.

"We've been taking every opportunity to rest and sort of going on a little bit of adrenalin because I haven't been sleeping that great, but I've been napping when possible and doing what I can to stay emotionally strong," Englot said.

Added Simmons: "Tonight's going to be tough, today is going to be tough and tomorrow is going to be tough, but we've got some strategies in place and hopefully we can combat the fatigue. It's going to be draining. We're lucky we don't play until tomorrow afternoon."

Quebec's Marie-France Larouche, Nova Scotia's Mary-Anne Arsenault and Heather Strong of Newfoundland and Labrador were tied at 5-2.

Defending champion Kelly Scott won twice to get to 3-4, while Manitoba's Jennifer Jones lost a pair to drop into a tie with Scott.

"Not a good day," Jones said. "We know we have to win and hope and if we can win the rest of our games, hopefully that will give us a shot at the playoffs."

Four losses is usually the maximum a team can have and still get into Friday's Page playoff. More than that, and a team needs others to lose to get into a tiebreaker.

Middaugh finished off P.E.I.'s Suzanne Gaudet in seven ends for a 10-2 win after beating B.C.'s Allison MacInnes 7-6 in the morning.

"I think we've sent a bit of a statement, more to ourselves than anyone else, that we can do it and we're curling well," Middaugh said.

It was a pivotal day for Larouche as her Quebec foursome defeated pre-tournament favourites Manitoba 10-8 and Alberta 8-4.

"When we won provincials we saw (the schedule) and we thought that this would be a big day for us," Larouche said. "Now, it's behind us and we look forward.

"I have my draw weight and that's what I didn't have the other days. Now I'm more confident in myself and I think it's good for my team."

Kleibrink rebounded from the loss to Quebec with a 10-3 win over Manitoba.

"You don't want more than one loss in a row. That's kind of our theory now," Kleibrink said. "As long as don't have back-to-backs we should be somewhere in the playoffs."

Nova Scotia had to grind out a 9-8 win over Kerry Galusha of the Territories after their win over Saskatchewan.

"Love it," Arsenault said. "We're in the thick of things. The bodies are getting a little sore, but we're good at mentally blocking it."

Newfoundland recovered from a loss to Scott with a 9-8 victory in an extra end over New Brunswick's Sylvie Robichaud.

After opening the tournament 1-4, Scott gained some momentum with wins over Newfoundland and New Brunswick.

"We're back on track," Scott said. "We're kind of in control of our own destiny at this point. We had two good wins today and feel good stepping on the ice tomorrow."

Curling has helped Englot to take her mind off her grief, at least while she is on the ice.

"We've really concentrated on, once we're on the ice, that's what we're dealing with at that point and accepting that it's OK to go out there and play like we normally can," said Englot. "We can deal with the off-ice stuff once we're done our three hours on the ice and that has worked well for us."

Englot, 44, works in communications for SaskTel and has two teenage sons. She is skipping Saskatchewan at nationals for the sixth time in her career.

Englot made the playoffs in her first two appearances in 1988 and 1989.

She says her father was influential in her development in curling.

"I learned to play with my dad in club curling out in Montmartre," Englot said. "He used to let me skip and he was very hard on me, but I think that's why I am where I am today."

"Michelle Has Been Incredible"

Saskatchewan skip soldiering on

By JIM BENDER -- Sun Media
February 20, 2008

REGINA -- Not a soul would have blamed Michelle Englot if she [had] passed on playing in this year's Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Or even the first day or two.

After all, the Saskatchewan skip learned her father, Joe, had died mere hours before she was slated to practise at the Brandt Centre on Friday. But she still made it to practice and she still played because, as she said, her dad would have wanted it that way.

After losing her first two games here, Englot won four straight before Nova Scotia's Mary-Anne Arsenault dropped her foursome 8-4 yesterday afternoon.

After the loss, Englot high-tailed it to Montmartre, which is within an hour's drive of Regina, because the funeral was scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. Saskatchewan had a bye on the Hearts draw last night when the rest of the curlers were wearing green ribbons in tribute to Joe Englot.

"We've constantly looked at re-grouping," Englot, 44, said before the loss to Nova Scotia (she was unavailable afterward). "I didn't think that we were far off the first couple of games so, it wasn't a big stretch. We just had to deal with a lot of emotions and I think we've gotten through that and we're finally playing better."

But it hasn't been easy.

"I've been taking every opportunity to rest," said Englot, tears welled in her eyes. "I've been going on a little bit of adrenaline because I haven't been sleeping that great. But I have been napping when possible and doing what I can to stay emotionally strong."

Despite the loss to Nova Scotia, Englot is still in the thick of things at 4-3.

"It's like you pull together as a family and we just know how to bring out the best in each other," said Saskatchewan lead Cindy Simmons. "We support each other. Michelle has been incredible. To be able to deal with what she has to do, she has been fantastic. The support of the crowd has been enormous to our team and her family as well.

"(Today's) game (against Newfoundland) is going to be tough but we have a strategy worked out to deal with it."

Englot was reduced to tears when the crowd gave her a standing ovation after the loss to Nova Scotia and she crumpled into the arms of Simmons, who was also crying uncontrollably.

"I don't know if I could do what she's doing," sympathized Arsenault. "I don't think I'd have the guts and courage to do it."

Meanwhile, Ontario's Sherry Middaugh pasted P.E.I.'s Suzanne Gaudet 10-2 to move into a first-place tie with Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink at 6-1. Kleibrink clobbered Manitoba's Jennifer Jones 10-3, then shocked reporters by saying she would prefer to play in the Page playoff 3-4 game over the 1-2 match because she doesn't like to sit.

"I think we sent a statement to ourselves because (third) Kirsten (Wall) and I haven't been here for four years," said Middaugh, who plays Alberta this afternoon. "And (second) Kim (Moore) hasn't been here since 1997. And it's the first time for (lead) Andra (Harmark). We're curling really well."

Quebec's Marie-France Larouche won both her games to move into a tie for third with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland at 5-2. Team Canada's Kelly Scott won both games yesterday to improve to 3-4 and a seventh-place tie with Manitoba and B.C.

"How Is She Doing This?"

Heart on her sleeve

Rob Vanstone | Regina Leader-Post
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The people rose to their feet to salute a remarkable feat.

Michelle Englot and her Saskatchewan team had just lost 8-4 to Mary-Anne Arsenault's Nova Scotia quartet during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts' Tuesday afternoon draw, but the result was irrelevant.

At 4:24 p.m., after the teams shook hands, Englot was hugged by teammate Cindy Simmons. The Saskatchewan skip proceeded to the other end of the ice to collect her curling paraphernalia.

People applauded. Englot waved. The ovation intensified. She waved again.

As Englot made the return trip down Sheet A, a handful of spectators in the northeast corner of the Brandt Centre stood up and applauded. Within seconds, many of the 3,819 spectators had followed suit.

The Regina curler was in tears by the time she reached the end of the ice, to be embraced once again.

Shortly thereafter, Englot left the ice, walked briskly to the dressing room, got changed and embarked for Montmartre -- where a funeral was held for her father, Joe, on Tuesday evening.

Neither Englot nor her teammates spoke to reporters following Tuesday afternoon's draw. The media respected their request that no interviews be conducted at that time.

I could only sit back and wonder: How is she doing this?

Ordinarily, the grieving process is very private. Not this time. In front of thousands of onlookers, Englot is mourning her father, who died of a heart attack Friday at age 74. She faces questions about a sad circumstance after virtually every draw.

I can relate to Englot's situation, but only to an extent. I lost my father to a heart attack on June 1, 1982. Alan Vanstone was 61 years old. I was 18.

For days afterward, I sat on the recliner with the dog. I did not have to face anybody. I watched whatever was on television. And it was hell.

"I may have been on the recliner if I didn't have this," Englot said with a chuckle the other day.

In that respect, the curling has been therapeutic. For three hours at a time, Englot can concentrate on something other than a sad situation.

Initially, it was impossible for the six-time provincial women's champion to separate curling and personal tragedy. The team lost its first two games at the Scotties.

"We were still very emotional the first couple of games and I think it showed," said Englot, who rebounded with four consecutive victories before facing Nova Scotia on Tuesday afternoon.

With a 4-3 record, Englot is very much in the mix, which again raises the question: How is she doing this?

In 22 years of scribbling for a meagre living, I have never dealt with a storyline quite like this one.

Until Friday, I had never interviewed someone at a competition on the day a loved one had died. Until Tuesday, a story's subject had yet to attend a funeral following a major sporting event.

In the space of a few unimaginably difficult days, Englot has stood up to the scrutiny while dealing with the misfortune. Additionally, she won four games in a row. It is to marvel.

"She has always been mentally tough," said Saskatchewan fifth Lorie Kehler, a longtime teammate and friend of Englot's. "She has played through a lot of adversity in the last few years.

"I think she's been pretty steady the last few years, but we had a few years -- the (2001 Olympic) Trials in particular -- when she had some stuff going on and she performed well through that, so she's mentally tough.

"Her whole family is a curling family. They've followed each other and played growing up. This is very much what her dad wanted, for her to carry on. I think she's certainly drawing strength from that."

The crowd has also buoyed her spirits.

"The encouragement from the fans has really helped," Englot said. "It has been awesome. The support I've been getting on and off the ice has been very helpful and just incredible."

The same description applies to Englot herself.

"She's just a great competitor," Kehler concluded.

"She's just a good lady."

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2008

The Cheers Drew Tears

Saskatchewan curling fans are tough!

When you wear the green, they expect you to win; they also expect you to play well, especially at home.

So when the hometown skip shoots 41% in a one-sided loss, she doesn't expect a standing ovation.

Cheers and tears at the Scotties

by Murray McCormick, The Regina Leader-Post
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The cheers drew tears.

A Tuesday afternoon crowd of 3,819 at the Brandt Centre saluted Saskatchewan's Michelle Englot with a standing ovation after she was beaten 8-4 by Nova Scotia's Mary-Anne Arsenault at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Englot acknowledged the tribute at the Canadian women's curling championship with a wave and a smile.

Seconds later, Englot was battling tears. Englot, who left immediately after Tuesday's game to attend her father's funeral in Montmartre, wasn't able to control her emotions any longer. Joe Englot, 74, died Friday of a heart attack at the family farm in Montmartre.

Michelle Englot was embraced by her teammates when she reached the end of Sheet A. The diminutive skip's shoulders were shaking as she finally gave in to her grief.

"What a strong lady," Nova Scotia lead Nancy Delahunt said while wiping away tears after the win. "I've always had so much respect for her. Now I respect her more for maintaining her commitment to the team. Her boys (Bret and Derek) were here and she is setting such a wonderful example for her family by doing the most difficult thing that she has ever done.

"She is leading her whole family and I expect they will look to her as a beacon and a leader. There is always someone who emerges at times like this and Michelle is that one."

Englot wasn't available to speak to the media after the game. The team rushed from the Brandt Centre to Montmartre to make a 7 p.m. funeral. There was also a viewing at 5:30 p.m. that Englot was hoping to make.

Englot, Darlene Kidd, Roberta Materi and Cindy Simmons made the 90-kilometre trip to Montmartre in private vehicles. Some of the curlers, along with representatives from the host committee, the Saskatchewan Curling Association and the Canadian Curling Association, boarded a chartered bus to attend the funeral. The players in the evening draw wore green ribbons as a sign of the support for Englot.

"I can't imagine doing it," Delahunt added when asked about the game. "The family will find a lot of strength in watching what Michelle does."

Englot looked sharp Tuesday morning while beating Kerry Galusha of the Yukon-Northwest Territories 9-4 to increase Saskatchewan's winning streak to four games.

Englot dealt with a crush of media after politely informing them that members of the team wouldn't be available for interviews after the match against Nova Scotia.

"I just wanted to get going right after the game," Englot said.

Against Nova Scotia, Englot's mind was obviously on more important matters. She faced a number of difficult shots, which she wasn't able to execute. Englot made only 41 per cent of her shots before shaking hands in the eighth end.

"You feel sympathy and empathy for her in that situation," Arsenault said. "Not that it is wrong what she's doing but I don't know if I would have the guts to do that."

Englot has been a rock, at least in public. She is the manager of external communications with SaskTel and had the foresight to let media know of her intentions regarding interviews. She was greeted by the largest scrum of the Scotties after her win over Galusha.

During that scrum, Englot paid tribute to her father.

"I learned to curl with my dad," said Englot, who is appearing in her sixth Scotties but her first as the skip of the hometown team. "He used to let me skip during club curling in Montmartre. He was very hard on me but that that's why I am where I am today."

Materi said that Joe Englot was always at the rink when Michelle played.

"He was a silent man and I'll bet it was hard on his nerves at times," said Materi. "But he was also very supportive. I think in her heart that she knows he's here. We're playing for him and we know that he's watching."

The afternoon loss dropped Englot to 4-3 and sixth place before last night's draw. She had a bye Tuesday night and another this morning before returning to action at 2 p.m. today against Heather Strong of Newfoundland-Labrador. Englot plays Manitoba's Jennifer Jones in the 7 p.m. draw.

"I think we will be fine," Englot said when asked about regrouping from the funeral. "We have plans to meet as a team around noon. Then, we'll go from there."
© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008

Grieving In Public And Playing For A Championship

Funeral takes hold on Englot rink

COREY ATKINSON | The Moose Jaw Times Herald
February 20, 2008

With the afternoon draw for the Saskatchewan rink happening only a few hours before skip Michelle Englot was to attend her father’s funeral, it’s easy to see why the entire team’s mind may have been elsewhere.

Nova Scotia defeated Saskatchewan, which includes Moose Jaw’s Cindy Simmons at lead, 8-4 in the afternoon at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts national women’s curling championship in Regina. The team’s momentum was seemingly stalled after four straight wins and the loss brings their record to 4-3.

“We didn’t play well,” Simmons said. “I don’t know if our heads weren’t into it or what it was, but Nova Scotia definitely played well. We’re still in control of our own destiny here. Eight-and-three will definitely get you in, so we’ve got to win the next four and make a good run at it going forward.”

The Nova Scotia game was played with a heavy heart, knowing the emotional funeral was in the evening.

“It’s just one of those things, and we’ve got to get our heads around where we need to be tomorrow,” she said.

But the morning draw against the Territories was a victory for Saskatchewan, and indeed closer to how they played throughout their winning streak.

“Everyone was playing their opposition and making the shots they need to make,” said Simmons. “(Tuesday) morning, we didn’t play great. We got some breaks from the other team that allowed us to win that game, and (Tuesday) afternoon, we didn’t outplay the opposition at all. They were on the right side of everything. Even when they missed a shot, it turned out roses for them.”

In order to win their next four matches, Saskatchewan will have to shake off not only the loss, but put aside the emotion while rocks are gliding down the ice. Grieving is something not easy to do at any point in one’s life, let alone while in the public eye while playing for a national curling championship.

“I’ve been through it a couple of years ago with my dad,” Simmons said. “From that, you just know things will get better and time heals. Every day, you’ve got to keep chugging along because time doesn’t stop. Michelle’s dad would have just loved it if she would keep playing and playing well. If it turns out we win a national championship, that would make him happy and it would make us happy.”

Wednesday, Saskatchewan takes on Heather Strong and her Newfoundland/Labrador rink in the afternoon before an evening match with Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones. The round robin concludes Thursday with matches against Prince Edward Island and Alberta.

Tuesday, February 19

Michelle On YouTube

Michelle answers a couple of questions about playing in an arena.

Michelle's interview after Tuesday morning's game, a win against the Territories.

Michelle speaks to the media after Wednesday afternoon's game -- a loss to Newfoundland.

Three In A Row: The Rebound Continues

Englot continues to rebound

Murray McCormick, The Leader-Post
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Before her father's death, before starting 0-2 at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Michelle Englot was feeling great about her lot in life.

The Regina-based skip of Saskatchewan at the Canadian women's curling championship was pleased with work, her family life and the way it had come together in her 44th year. Most of those good feelings were pushed to the side when Joe Englot died Friday, one day before the Scotties started at the Brandt Centre. Joe Englot died at the family farm in Montmartre after suffering a heart attack.

"I'm battling to get back, get back there and that isn't coming easily," Englot said after rebounding from her dreadful start to improve to 3-2 and tied for fourth with four others heading into today's draws. "Hopefully we'll use the other strengths that we have."

Englot has drawn upon more than the support of her team to deal with the tragedy. Englot, Darlene Kidd, Roberta Materi and Cindy Simmons had met with sports psychologist Gary Gregor on Thursday and a number of times over the weekend. Gregor, who helped 1989 Saskatchewan Roughriders win the Grey Cup, has helped the players and alternate Lorie Kehler and coach Anita Ford deal with the grief they are all feeling.

"We gave each other permission to play like we normally do and that was huge," Simmons said. "It was OK to have fun out there, to be ourselves and play the way we want to play. It's not disrespectful and we've given ourselves permission to have fun and that's when we play our best. If I couldn't do that, I wouldn't be playing."

Normal is a state Englot is striving to reach. She was not there when Saskatchewan was beaten 9-6 by Quebec's Marie-France Larouche on Saturday and 8-6 by Ontario's Sherry Middaugh on Sunday.

"It was definitely hard and it is hard to step out there," said Englot, who is appearing in her sixth Scotties but first as the skip of the hometown team. "There are moments when I get weepy but I'm doing OK."

A three-game winning streak has helped. Englot was dealing more with curling questions as the weekend progressed.

Gregor, who worked with Englot at the 2001 Canadian Olympic team trials, has helped her clear some of the hurdles associated with her grief.

"It's nice having a third party come in and talk about your emotions," said Englot. "Giving us permission to play was important for me because I was struggling with it. Maybe I shouldn't be here ... That definitely helped me."

The move forward started Sunday night when Englot bounced back from a 6-4 sixth-end deficit to pull out an 8-6 win over Team Canada's Kelly Scott. Englot backed up that win with a 10-5 victory over New Brunswick's Sylvie Robichaud on Monday morning and a 5-4 win over B.C.'s Allison MacInnes last night.

"Family Day was good to us and we'll take it," Englot said. "We just hope that we can keep building on this."

Englot has games today against Kerry Galusha of the Yukon/Northwest Territories at 9:30 a.m. and Nova Scotia's Mary-Anne Arsenault at 2 p.m.

Upon the completion of those games, Englot and her team will make the 90-kilometre trip southeast of Regina to Montmartre for a funeral mass, 7 p.m., at Sacred Heart Church. Saskatchewan also has Wednesday morning off before resuming play at 2 p.m. against Heather Strong of Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We'll deal with (today) the same we have been," Englot said. "We'll give ourselves permission to play. We have a funeral to attend after that but I think we're through the toughest part emotionally. (Tonight) will be tough but we have grieved and we're starting to turn the corner. We'll be all right and we'll deal with it."

Englot (3-2) was tied with Manitoba's Jennifer Jones, Arsenault and Larouche. Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink (5-0) is first followed by Heather Strong of Newfoundland-Labrador and Ontario's Sherry Middaugh at 4-1.

The Scotties runs through Sunday. The winner is to represent Canada at the Ford women's world championship, March 22-30 in Vernon, B.C.
© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008

Two Games And A Funeral

Two Games And A Funeral: Best Wishes To Michelle Englot

Pat Hiver | Tuesday, February 19, 2008

We need to take a break from the usual fare so I can introduce you to Michelle Englot [shown here with her son, Derek], one of the finest curlers I've ever seen and one of the nicest people I've ever met.

Michelle has played the cold game at a very high level for more than 20 years now, with class and style and humor (win or lose), and this week she's representing her province (Saskatchewan) at a Canadian national championship for the 8th time (six times in women's play, once in mixed and once in juniors).

It was set up to be a special championship for Michelle, played in her home city of Regina, where she is greatly admired -- not only for the way she plays the game (fearless and intensely focused, yet relaxed and funny) but even more for the person she is (bright, friendly, and very kind).

I'm usually neutral in such things, but it's not hard to tell that Michelle is special, and I've been cheering for her for a long time. I've been thrilled to see her play in two national semifinals -- so far -- but a spot in the championship game has eluded her -- so far. The 1989 semifinal, against eventual Canadian and World Champion Heather Houston, was one of the most exquisite and excruciating games I have ever seen. And the curling gods have not been kind to Michelle since her near miss 19 years ago.
Maybe this will be her year; it couldn't happen at a better time or to a better person. She's certainly paid her dues.

The tournament began on Saturday and continues until Sunday; twelve teams are playing a round-robin that will finish on Thursday night and the top four teams will make the playoffs, which begin Friday. After dropping their first two games, Michelle and her team have won three in a row and finished Monday night tied for fourth place; today (Tuesday) they will have two games and a funeral.

Michelle's father, Joe Englot, passed away suddenly on Thursday night or Friday morning, and Michelle is playing with a very heavy heart.

If the tournament were anywhere else but Regina, Michelle told the press, she would have gone home. But she's already home. There's no place to go.

Joe Englot was an enthusiastic curler and a great supporter of Michelle throughout her career. He didn't feel well on Thursday and went to see a doctor; that night he had pains in his chest and told Michelle's mom, "If anything happens to me, tell Michelle to still curl." So she's playing -- at a very high level -- while grieving. What a sight!

Just watching on TV, you can see it in her face and in her body language; even when she makes a great shot (and she makes a lot of great shots) or wins a close game (ditto), she's finding it difficult to smile.

It's completely understandable, of course, and so is the tremendous support she's been getting from her teammates and the hometown fans.

I wish I were there. I wish I could be there. I wish I could drop everything and go to Regina, hang out in the Brandt Centre, pound my hands together for every good shot they make (and every lucky break they get) and scream myself hoarse by the end of the week. It wouldn't be the first time. But it's not gonna happen this year.
Instead -- not enough, not nearly enough, but the best I can manage -- I send my very best wishes to Michelle Englot, her family and her teammates: Cindy Simmons [seen here with Michelle], Roberta Materi and Darlene Kidd.

The funeral mass for Joe Englot will take place on Tuesday evening, at Sacred Heart Church in Montmartre, about an hour southeast of Regina.

The whole town of Montmartre will be there, and my heart will be there too, beginning at 7 p.m.

Monday, February 18

Derek, Brett, Joan, And The The Retro Look

Lorie Kehler, February 18:

Had the afternoon off, Michelle headed home to spend some time with her family. Brett arrived home last night from Texas and he and Derek arrived fully clad in Saskatchewan Green, from Michelle’s early years 1988 and 1989, after two wins today they are now not allowed to change for the rest of the week. I think they talked Joan Stricker into pulling out her sweater to join them in the retro look.
Here's a nice semi-retro photo of Joan. I'm still looking for a fully-retro shot of the 1988-89 team. If you have one, please send me email!

GO GREEN: Saskatchewan Wins Again!

Curling fever: Scotties off to strong start

Darrell Davis, Leader-Post
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2008

When Saskatchewan's representatives step onto the ice for games at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Brandt Centre has a louder buzz and quite a few more spectators.

"We had 5,310 fans on Sunday night," Ron Pugsley, a volunteer co-chair for the Canadian women's curling championship, said Monday.

"The attendance has been phenomenal to start. I was answering phones at the Schmirler Foundation telethon Sunday night and ran out to see the last shot. Everyone was still in their seats; the eruption afterwards made such a great environment. I'm really glad for Michelle (Englot)."

Englot and her Regina-based teammates Darlene Kidd, Roberta Materi and Cindy Simmons are Saskatchewan's representatives in the 12-team field.

Perhaps still reeling from the unexpected death Friday of Michelle's father, Joe, they lost their first two games of the round-robin.

Playing before the largest crowd of the Family Day weekend, they recorded their first victory with an 8-6 decision Sunday night over Team Canada's Kelly Scott. Saskatchewan won again Monday morning, beating New Brunswick's Sylvia Robichaud 10-5, and was scheduled to meet the Territories' Kerry Galusha in the evening draw.

The top four teams after round-robin action ends Thursday advance to the playoffs, leading to Sunday's final.

When the Canadian women's curling championship was last held in Regina, in 1998, the event featured two Regina teams -- the Saskatchewan champions skipped by Cathy Trowell, who is now a co-chairwoman, and Team Canada, skipped by the late Sandra Schmirler, just off its gold medal-winning performance at the Winter Olympics. That created huge interest in the tournament and attracted sell-out crowds at the 6,500-seat arena.

This year's attendance is averaging 4,500 per draw.

"Crowds have been increasing," said Trowell. "I'm sure we'll see some differences as people go back to work. Maybe the walkups will go down, or we'll see people get some big interest.

"Michelle's performance will help us, particularly in the latter part of the week when people want to come and watch the Saskatchewan team. They're playing very well. It's a tight field. There are those top teams -- most years you get a couple of them, but this year we've got what, eight, who could win?"

Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink, Ontario's Sherry Middaugh and Manitoba's Jennifer Jones are among the big-name contenders vying for the championship. The winner advances to the Ford women's world curling championship, March 22-30 in Vernon B.C.

The event also features hospitality rooms and nightly entertainment at Ipsco Place. According to the organizers, the tournament has been virtually hassle-free.

"Nothing has happened that we weren't ready for," said Trowell, who has 650 volunteers at her disposal. "Everything has been very solvable, very quickly, because of the great volunteers and great people serving as vice-chairs and directors."
© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008

Saturday, February 16

"It's A Blessing That We Are At Home"

Team Saskatchewan deals with death of skip's father

CBC Saskatchewan | Saturday, February 16, 2008

The leader of Saskatchewan's women's curling team says she'll carry on at the Canadian championships despite the death of her father.

Michelle Englot's father, 74-year-old Joe Englot, died unexpectedly Thursday night after experiencing chest pains earlier in the day.

Englot, 44, is Saskatchwewan's skip at the Tournament of Hearts in Regina.

Back on the ice Friday to participate in the tournament's skills competition, she said it was difficult but she's determined to give it her best.

Englot said the whole week will be emotional, but she'll be playing for her father.

"I know he would want me to play, so I'm here with him in my heart," she said.

Englot said she's glad the tournament is in her home town this year.

"It's a blessing that we are at home, because I feel that I can stay and play," she said.

"All my friends and family are here. I wouldn't have been able to be halfway across the country at this time."

Englot's team members said they'll be right behind her.

"Michelle's a tough egg, just like Joe was," said alternate [Lorie] Kehler.

Kehler said her job is to step in if any teammate can't compete, but this time she sees her role as one of offering support.

"You let her know you care. I mean, we're probably as close to her family as we are to her, so it really affected everybody," she said.

It's important now for the team to get some positive momentum going, she said.

Englot said her team will take a little time to regroup but they'll be ready for their first game Saturday against Quebec at 2:30 p.m. CT.

Let's Stand Up For Michelle

I couldn't agree more.

Let's stand up for Michelle

Rob Vanstone, The Leader-Post
Published: Saturday, February 16, 2008

Suddenly, Michelle Englot is dealing with the Scotties Tournament of Heartbreaks.

The Regina curler, who is skipping Team Saskatchewan at the Canadian women's curling championship, learned early Friday morning that her father, Joe, had died on the family farm in Montmartre. He was 74.

Mere hours later, Michelle Englot was on the ice at the Brandt Centre, practising for her sixth Scotties. In the afternoon, Englot and her team members -- Darlene Kidd, Roberta Materi and Cindy Simmons -- competed in the Ford Hot Shots skills competition.

During the Hot Shots, Derek Schneider -- Englot's 17-year-old son -- occupied a front-row seat near his mother. The two shared an extended embrace shortly before Englot returned to the ice and positioned her broom near the button.

After Englot's Hot Shots obligations concluded, she spent a few minutes speaking with teammates and loved ones before approaching a handful of reporters.

"Are you ready?" one of them inquired.

Englot somehow managed a chuckle and said: "As ready as I'll ever be."

It was uncomfortable for everyone involved. The ever-accommodating Englot faced reporters at a time when she had every reason to decline.

CJME's Mitchell Blair posed the first question: "What's going through your mind right now?"

"I'm not quite sure yet ...," she said, pausing. "It's unexpected and very sad. I'm feeling for my mom and my brothers and sister. I'm just hoping to get through this."

A choked-up Englot responded to all lines of inquiry for a few minutes before being comforted by teammates. Two members of the Yukon/Northwest Territories team consoled the Saskatchewan skip before she walked away. Simmons put her arm around Englot as they approached the dressing room.

Somehow, Englot is going to compete in a prominent, nationally televised event in the midst of personal tragedy. Until Friday, Englot was upbeat about the way her life was going. And now this.

Englot is in the unenviable -- yet accustomed -- position of dealing with a private matter in very public fashion.

While watching curling, we watch ordinary citizens who are suddenly cast in the role of celebrities. People like Eric Tillman, Ken Miller, Kent Austin, Kerry Joseph, Brent Parker and Curtis Hunt sign up for this, and are compensated accordingly.

The curlers, by contrast, often end up paying for the privilege of competing in a national event. Time off from work is required. Other expenses are incurred as they curl for a trophy instead of cash.

However, the curlers often face more scrutiny and reveal more of themselves than most athletes. During televised matches, their every word is beamed across the country. There is no secrecy to the decision-making process as the cameras zoom in and the analysts weigh in. Coaches and quarterbacks rarely, if ever, face such an intrusion.

Life in the spotlight cannot be easy under ideal circumstances. Imagine what it must be like for Englot during these devastating days. She will be grieving in front of 6,000 people.

Hopefully, the hometown crowd will prove to be a source of strength and solace for a lady of class and courage. If anyone ever deserved a standing ovation at the Brandt Centre, it is Michelle Englot.
© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008

Friday, February 15

Curling With A Heavy Heart

Saskatchewan skip Englot's father passes away

Murray McCormick, Leader-Post
Published: Friday, February 15, 2008

Saskatchewan's Michelle Englot will be playing at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts with a heavy heart.

The Canadian women's curling championship begins Saturday at the Brandt Centre. Joe Englot, Michelle's father, died Friday at the family farm in Montmartre. He was 74.

"It's not as if he wasn't healthy but he told my mother (Norma) that if anything happened to him to tell Michelle to curl," Englot said Friday. "That's what I'm going to do and I'm going to do it for him. I know he wouldn't have wanted me to not play. I'll do it with him in my heart."

Michelle Englot, 44, made the 90-kilometre drive to Montmartre to be with family members Friday. She returned to Brandt Centre in time for Friday's 10 a.m. practice sessions. Englot also took part in the Ford Hot Shots competition before meeting with the media to discuss her father's unexpected death.

"He went to the doctor (Thursday) because he was having some chest pains," said Englot, who is curling with Darlene Kidd, Roberta Materi and Cindy Simmons. "He told him to lose some weight, go home and you'll feel better."

Englot didn't give much thought to backing out of the Scotties. She said she would draw upon the support of her teammates, family and friends to make it through the week.

"I'll use his strength and I'll be fine," Englot said. "(Friday) night will be a bit of a letdown. We'll regroup and come out strong (Saturday)."

Englot watched her teams throw rocks while sitting on the bumper behind the sheet. She looked stoic and composed and was even seen laughing with her teammates. Englot's 17-year-old son, Derek arrived Friday afternoon and the two shared a long embrace.

It's the first opportunity that Englot has had to play in the Scotties as the hometown team. The proximity of Regina to Montmartre was one of the reasons Englot felt that she could continue.

"I wouldn't have stayed if we were in some other part of the country," Englot said. "It's a blessing that we are at home. I feel that I can still play because all of my family and friends are here. I wouldn't have had that if had been across the country."

Joe Englot is survived by his wife, Norma, and children Mallory, Michelle, Nissa and Norman and numerous grandchildren. Funeral services are pending.

The Scotties runs through Feb. 24.
© Leader-Post 2008

"Michelle Lost Her Father Last Night"

Lorie Kehler, blogging at SaskCurl.

February 15, 2008

I was all set to start our diary off on a light note. I was going to tell you that I certainly pack better when there are weight restrictions on luggage and to ensure my family that even though it looked like I had packed and was going to stay at the Delta for a month, that I am indeed only staying for 10 days. I was going to tell you (even though I hadn’t told my new roommate Anita) that I had invited my old roommate to 5 Scotts, Joan Stricker for a sleepover, because if Michelle couldn’t be here without me, I certainly couldn’t be here without Joan (miss you).

But as many of you will have heard by now, Michelle lost her father last night. What was building to be the week of a lifetime came crashing down with one phone call. Our thoughts and prayers to Norma, Mallory, Michelle, Nesa, Norman and their families on their loss.

Our thoughts to Darlene, Roberta and Cindy for their support for Michelle, they only want what is best for Michelle, at a time when they should be enjoying the limelight, enjoying being princesses, their concern is for Michelle. Hang in there girls, Michelle Englot is one tough lady, she is her father’s daughter. She knows that she has the love and support of her boys, Bret and Derek, the love and support of her Mom and siblings, the love and support of her friends, but most important the love and support of her Dad, who told Mom (Norma) yesterday, if I die, make sure Michelle curls.

Hugs and kisses to all of our families, my family Al, Kenilee and Adam because what last night showed us once again is that life is precious, life is fragile, life is fleeting and life is family.

God bless Joe, this one’s for you.

Englot Exemplifies Those In Sport Who Get It

Englot exemplifies those in sport who get it

Rob Vanstone, The Leader-Post
Published: Friday, February 15, 2008

DISCLOSURE: This is not the most objective column in the history of sports journalism.

The intent is not to resort to cheerleading -- think of how hideous I would look in the outfit -- but instead to laud the admirable qualities of Saskatchewan's skip at the 2008 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Michelle Englot left an imprint early in the career of a rumpled scribe. The year was 1989, when Englot -- who was known as Michelle Schneider at the time -- was representing Saskatchewan for the second time at the Canadian women's curling championship.

At that time, I was on the curling beat for the Leader-Post. Englot was media-friendly enough to qualify for a national event that was based in Kelowna, B.C., where the mild climate provided a nice respite from the bitterness of a Saskatchewan winter.

I followed Englot's team to Kelowna, as did Peter Loubardias of CKCK Radio. Early in the week, it appeared that we might also be following Englot, Joan Stricker, Lorie Kehler and Leanne Eberle (now Whitrow) to the world women's curling championship in Milwaukee.

Englot created plenty of media attention as a result of her torrid start in Kelowna. After each draw, she was encircled by reporters, including Mr. Loubardias and yours truly.

Without fail, Englot would provide answers that were insightful, candid and funny. She made our phony-baloney jobs very easy that week.

But the enduring memory pertains to what happened once the media pack dispersed. Every time, Englot would make a point of approaching the two-headed Regina media delegation and ask us: "Anything else you guys need?''

The routine was not altered later in the week, when Englot's fortunes turned. She was equally courteous and candid following victories and defeats.

You do not forget things like that.

A simple courtesy still resonates, 19 years after the excursion to Kelowna.

The details of the games elude me, after all these years, but I remain appreciative of Englot's good nature.

She recognized and appreciated that the Leader-Post and CKCK Radio had gone to considerable expense to ensure that the Saskatchewan team was covered. She also grasped the notion that the newspaper and Regina's information station were a conduit to the people back home.

It seems like a basic notion, but it is lost on so many people.

When the Saskatchewan Roughriders' players staged one of their periodic media boycotts in 2003, I attempted to explain to then head coach Danny Barrett that the team was penalizing its fans by withholding interviews. The breath was wasted.

Last year, I discussed life in a fishbowl with Barrett's successor, Kent Austin. He realized that dealing with the media could be time-consuming and occasionally irritating, but he made the point (without any provocation from me) that conducting interviews was a fundamental component of sharing information with the fans.

I resisted the temptation to applaud. Austin often commended players who "get it'' -- ones who grasp what the team is trying to achieve, and those who understand the environment.

When I think of people who "get it,'' Englot is near the top of the list. It is appropriate, of course, that she regularly deals with the media in the line of duty at SaskTel. She knows the routine better than most.

I doubt that anyone had to explain the procedure to Michelle Englot. She is intuitively courteous -- even when the questions are somewhat less than courteous.

Again, we flash back to 1989. Englot was expecting her first child when she curled in Kelowna. She faced some rather personal inquiries about whether the pregnancy would affect her performance.

Englot responded in good humour, joking that nobody posed such questions of male curlers whose stomachs were conspicuous.

A generation later, Englot is a six-time provincial champion. She is preparing to curl at another Scotties -- this time at home.

Naturally, the Brandt Centre crowd will be behind Michelle Englot. All the cheers will be well-deserved.
© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008

Third: Darlene Kidd

No Kidding around, she's in it for the green

Murray McCormick, The Leader-Post
Published: Friday, February 15, 2008

The Scotties Tournament of Hearts starts Saturday at the Brandt Centre with 11 of the country's provincial champions and Team Canada in Regina pursuing a Canadian women's curling championship.

Regina's Michelle Englot is the Saskatchewan representative. Englot, Darlene Kidd, Roberta Materi and Cindy Simmons have earned the right to be the hometown team in the championship.

Wednesday, The Leader-Post's Murray McCormick began a four-part series on each member of Englot's team with a profile of Simmons. On Thursday, it was Materi's turn. Today, Kidd is in the spotlight.

A lighthearted comment turned into a dream come true for Darlene Kidd.

In 2006, after Regina was awarded the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Kidd was talking to her father from her home in Brampton, Ont. Ron Kidd suggested that she get back to the Queen City soon because the 2008 Canadian women's curling championship was to be held at the Brandt Centre.

"In the back of my mind I knew it was joke," said Kidd. "It could also have been that he just missed me."

That nudge was just enough to push Kidd into a decision. In August, Kidd returned to Regina after spending seven years in Ontario working and curling. On Saturday, Kidd will join Regina skip Michelle Englot, second Roberta Materi and lead Cindy Simmons to comprise Team Saskatchewan in the Canadian championship.

A relocation to Regina made sense for Kidd, who grew up in Lumsden. Kidd had been commuting between Toronto and Regina for 18 months in two-week intervals to be with her 12-year-old son, Nick -- of whom Kidd and Jeff Gartner share custody. She quit her Toronto job as project manager with the Ontario Centre for Excellence in May and spent the summer enjoying cottage life in Ontario before moving West.

"That was something I wanted to do more than anything," said Kidd, 35. "I also wanted to come back to curl."

It didn't take long for Kidd to settle into her former life. She found work at the same firm she had been employed with before leaving for Ontario. She moved back into the same house and quickly connected with her former skip and second in Roberta Materi.

Kidd also had ties to Simmons because they shared in the 1990 Saskatchewan and Canadian junior women's curling titles. It has paid off in Kidd's first provincial women's title and an opportunity to participate in the Canadian women's championship while wearing Saskatchewan's colours.

"There isn't anything that beats green," said Kidd. "I went to the Roughriders games and I wanted to be on the Dream Team. Everything has always been green for me."

Kidd and Scott Bailey, who plays lead for Toronto's Wayne Middaugh, have been partners for eight years. Kidd watched Bailey play in the Canadian men's curling championship but had a difficult time adjusting the Ontario colours of black, white and red. Kidd adjusted to the pace in Eastern Canadian but missed what was taking place back home. She stayed involved in the game, including reaching the 2004 Ontario women's championship with JoAnne.

"I enjoyed playing but it was entirely different from Saskatchewan," Kidd said. "You all live in different communities and you meet in whichever town you happen to be playing in that weekend. Here, you play club, super league and you practise together. It's more team-like."

Kidd enjoys that team atmosphere.

"There are lots of times when you don't want to throw," Kidd said. "That's the commitment that we have made to each other. We'll all be ready on game days."

The team's history helps. Each member has different ties to their teammate. They are also mothers, wives and have full-time jobs. Kidd and Simmons know what it's like to have partners who are also competitive curlers on the men's side. Pat Simmons, Cindy's husband, is a four-time Saskatchewan men's champion.

"We get along well and we've all been very good friends for years," said Kidd, who is an executive assistant with Clifton Associates. "That is one of the key factors for us. We have a lot of history, backup and support. When you put that all together we are a blended package that has the same goals. We're committed to what we want."

Each member of the team contributes to its performance. Englot said that Kidd brings intensity to the team.

"Darlene is probably the most intense of all of us," said Englot, who finished second at the 1998 Saskatchewan women's championship with Kidd and Materi. "You need to have someone who can keep the intensity level up. Everyone has a role to play and teams who are successful have a good balance of that."

Kidd is aware of her intensity when the team is on the ice.

"They tell me that I scare them sometimes," said Kidd. "I know that I'm the one they have to make smile. I'm intense because I'm not out there to lose. I'm out there to win."

That remains the team's goal. Saskatchewan hasn't won a national women's championship since the late Sandra Schmirler in 1997. Englot's squad plays a type of game that could end that drought.

"We're aggressive and there are a lot of teams that won't play aggressively with us," Kidd said. "Then we have to be patient when we have the hammer and when to go for it. If that happens in the first end, then we'll go for it."
© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008

Thursday, February 14

Second: Roberta Materi

Materi has her own home team

Murray McCormick, Leader-Post
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Scotties Tournament of Hearts starts Saturday at the Brandt Centre with 11 of the country's provincial champions and Team Canada in Regina pursuing a Canadian women's curling championship.

Regina's Michelle Englot is the Saskatchewan representative. Englot, Darlene Kidd, Roberta Materi and Cindy Simmons have earned the right to be the hometown team in the championship.

Wednesday, The Leader-Post's Murray McCormick began four-part series on each member of Englot's team with a profile of Simmons. Today, it's Materi's turn.

Roberta Materi is second on one curling team and could be the skip of another.

Materi throws second stones with Regina's Michelle Englot, who with third Darlene Kidd and lead Cindy Simmons, are Saskatchewan's representatives at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Englot earned a berth as the hometown team in the Canadian women's championship, which starts Saturday at the Brandt Centre.

Away from the rink Materi, 32, rules a house of a different kind. Materi and her husband, Scott, are the parents of three year-old triplets -- Alexa, Peighton and Kaden.

"It was very chaotic, with a lack of sleep and they were very demanding,'' said Materi, who took a two-year hiatus from competitive curling with Englot to devote time to her young team. "At the same time it was lots of fun. I wouldn't have wanted to be away all of those weekends while they were babies.''

Now that the triplets are older, Materi was able to take on a more demanding schedule. Englot played in five weekend bonspiels during the pre-Christmas cash season and all three levels of the playdowns en route to winning the provincial championship.

"I wouldn't want to play a more demanding schedule than that,'' said Materi, who is a human resources manager at SaskTel. "Scott is very supportive and he's very competent at home with the kids by himself. Not all dads can do that but he can.''

There are tradeoffs. Roberta said her husband is an avid outdoorsman and is particularly interested in hunting. Scott has his time off to hunt and Roberta gets to curl.

"It's challenging at times but Scott and I are very organized,'' said Materi, who has been married for eight years. "We just make it happen. Right now, the kids are young enough that they aren't in a lot of activities other than day care five days a week and swimming. I know in a few years that will change and it will be more hectic.''

Materi remembers when curling wasn't as hectic. She shared in the 2001 Saskatchewan women's championship with Englot, Lorie Kehler and Joan Stricker. There weren't any children and basically all that Materi had to do was head to Sudbury, Ont., for her first Scotties. Englot didn't make the playoffs after finishing 4-7.

"It has definitely made me want it more,'' said Materi. "It's so special that you just want to keep working hard and get another crack at a national title.''

Materi spent another three seasons curling with Englot before missing 2005 and 2006 playdowns. Materi curled some while the children were young but mostly it was motherhood and getting herself back in shape. Materi could be seen some mornings jogging behind a stroller full of her kids.

"I did miss curling and I spared a bit which kept me on the ice,'' Materi said. "I missed being part of the competitive game.''

Materi has been with Englot for eight of the last 10 years. Materi played on the team, along with Kidd, that finished second at the 1998 Saskatchewan women's championship. Regina's Cathy Trowell won the provincial championship that year and was rewarded with an opportunity to be the hometown team in the Canadian women's championship. Ten years later, the three team members finally have the opportunity to be Saskatchewan in Regina.

"We did get to play in the Olympics trials in 2001, so we got to have a little taste of it,'' Materi said. "There were three other Saskatchewan teams, though, and it will be different being the one and only.''

Kidd said that Materi is the ultimate front-end player, which simply enhances the team's chances for success.

"Roberta only speaks when spoken to, which you want in a front-end player,'' Kidd said with a laugh. "Michelle is the leader of the team in some ways but Roberta is the boss. We all have our own game faces and we all know how to deal with each other.''

Materi has honed that ability while guiding her young team around her home. Starting Saturday, Materi will be able to have the run of another house while pursing a national title. She's looking forward to being the hometown team.

"It was hard for our families to get to the provincials with them having to look after all of the little kids,'' said Materi. "We should have more support at home and that's exciting.''
© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008

Wednesday, February 13

Lead: Cindy Simmons

Curling is a family affair

Murray McCormick, The Leader-Post
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Scotties Tournament of Hearts starts Saturday at the Brandt Centre with 11 of the country's provincial champions and Team Canada in Regina pursuing a Canadian women's curling championship.

Regina's Michelle Englot is the Saskatchewan representative. Englot, Darlene Kidd, Roberta Materi and Cindy Simmons have earned the right to be the hometown team in the championship.

Today, The Leader-Post's Murray McCormick begins a four-part series on each member of Englot's team. First up is Simmons.

The closing ceremonies at the 2008 SaskPower Scotties Tournament in North Battleford featured a moment that was significantly poignant.

It happened while Del Jones, the president of Saskatchewan Curling Association, was presenting the members of Michelle Englot's team with the provincial jackets they would wear as Saskatchewan women's curling champions at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Jones presented the jackets to Englot, third Darlene Kidd, second Roberta Materi, lead Cindy Simmons and coach Anita Ford.

The final two presentations were especially emotional because Cindy's father, Gary Ford, was Jones's best friend. Anita is Simmons's mother and Gary's widow. Gary, a four-time Saskatchewan men's curling champion, died April 22, 2004, at the age of 65.

"Without having my dad there to congratulate me . . . but having Del present me with the jacket in his last year as president of the SCA . . . was pretty darned close," said Simmons, 33. "It was a great experience for my mom and I. To have Del right there was special."

The presentation summed up what Simmons is about -- family, friends and curling. Simmons, who is to begin play at the Canadian women's curling championship Saturday at the Brandt Centre, can't remember when curling wasn't part of her life, including her family and friends.

"I played volleyball and basketball in high school but then I was given an ultimatum," said Simmons, who grew up in Grey, attended Sheldon-Williams Collegiate and lives in Moose Jaw where she is a financial planner with RBC. "I had to give up basketball if I wanted to curl because they conflicted. It turned out to be the right decision."

It sure did. In 1990, Kidd and Simmons won the provincial and Canada junior women's curling championships. It would be the first of three provincial titles for Simmons. She won a provincial mixed title in 2004 with Regina's Randy Gilewich, Englot and Pat Simmons. Cindy and Pat, the four-time Saskatchewan men's champion, have been married for six years.

Cindy's accomplishments follow a string of curling successes for the Ford family. Gary was a four-time Saskatchewan men's champion with Avonlea's Bob Pickering from 1968 to 1971. Anita was the coach with Sandra Schmirler's powerhouse team that won three Canadian and world titles and gold medal in women's curling at the 1998 Winter Olympics. Atina Ford, Simmons's sister, was the Schmirler's alternate and skipped the junior women's team in 1990. Anita Ford won senior women's provincial championships in 2004 and 2005 as a third with Regina's Crystal Frisk.

Cindy credits her parents with having an influence on her development as a curler.

"They offered different aspects of the game," said Cindy. "Dad was really into strategy and he was the one talking to us around the kitchen table. My mom has been the silent supporter. She is somebody you can talk to and will give great advice but she will never interfere. That's one reason why she's a great coach. She brings that grounding that every team needs."

Cindy adds that to her current team. She has curled off and on with Englot since moving into the women's ranks. This is the team's first year together in the current formation but each player has history with each other. Those ties create a comfort level that increases the team's chances of success.

"Cindy loves the game and has been involved in it since she was a young whippersnapper," said Englot. "I remember watching her in juniors and thinking what a great personality that she has. She's perfect for the game. She has a lot of experience to feed off."

Simmons has also planned her opportunities to be involved in competitive curling. Cindy and Pat have two children -- Makena (two) and Max (eight months) -- who were both born during the offseason. Planned parenthood is also a part of the Simmons' lifestyle.

"We worked it out so I would be pregnant in the winter," said Simmons, who barely missed a draw while carrying her children. "We're lucky that we don't have any problems getting pregnant. We know our curling season. The prime time to have children was early in the summer so they would be around three months by the time curling season came around. My family is all curlers and it's just something that we all do. It makes sense for us and it has worked out very well for us."

There is also an added bonus. When Cindy misses her father and wishes he was here to see her curling accomplishments, she only needs to look at Max.

"He looks like so much like my dad," Cindy said. "He acts like him, has the same blue eyes and the same mannerisms. He's just like my dad and when I go home, it's like having him there."
© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008