Monday, February 18

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