Wednesday, February 20

"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."