The Hamilton Spectator
‘You can’t really lay off at all’
Wild ride to playing in Hearts showcase for wild cards
Three wild cards at the Canada’s men’s and women’s curling championships apparently are here to stay, so players are keeping their noses to grindstones to earn those spots.
The increase from one wild-card berth to three came in 2021 in a Calgary curling bubble that was the result of COVID.
Brought back by popular demand in 2022 and 2023, wild cards are a Plan B ticket for team that don’t win provincial or territorial championships.
But earning a wild card can be a wild ride. The spots go to the top three teams in Curling Canada’s ranking system that don’t win a championship. So it’s a matter of entering enough events and winning enough points during the season, while hoping a team ranked higher wins its province or territory.
When the dust settled this year, fourth-ranked Kaitlyn Lawes, No. 6 Casey Scheidegger and No. 7 Meghan Walter earned the wild cards for Kamloops.
Lawes put a scare into defending champion Kerri Einarson in a battle of Pool A unbeatens Sunday afternoon. Einarson won 10-9 to improve to 3-0, Lawes fell to 2-1.
Walter lost the Manitoba final to Jennifer Jones on Jan. 29, but landed the third wild card when Rachel Homan won in Ontario the same day.
“It’s a very odd thing,” Walter said Sunday. “You can’t really lay off at all. Next season — we’ve talked about it — we’re playing the same amount of events, 14 or 13 … You’ve got to play in as many as possible and try to get to playoffs most of the time.”
Scheidegger, who lost to Kayla Skrlik in Alberta’s final, chased points this season with third Kate Cameron in charge of the math.
“Most of the teams that are in the top 10 probably have that person that’s calculating and making sure that you are in a good situation,” Scheidegger said.
“We attempted to play in ’spiels that would give us the most bang for our buck, so they would give us the most points.
“When you come from a province that has had several wild cards come out of it the past couple years, it’s good planning to have that in the back of your mind.”
Manitoba is the best-represented province this year, with Lawes and Walter joining Einarson and Jones.
“I do think everyone wants to win their provincials and everyone wants to wear their crest on their back, but knowing there are some provinces that have a lot of great teams, you do kind of have your eye on wanting to be at the top of the (rankings),” Lawes said.
“You might see teams chasing points. If you’re in the hunt and you’re around that top five … there’s a chance you might throw in an extra event in January.”
Extra wild cards offer a young team like Walter’s, who faces a gauntlet of Einarson, Jones, Lawes and Chelsea Carey in Manitoba, a chance to play in a Hearts early in their career.
“I definitely did not think I’d be playing in a Scotties at 20,” said Walter, whose rink was one of five without a win heading into Sunday night.