Rachel Homan’s team may have tricked some people with their social media post earlier this week asking followers to guess who their new lead is going to be for next season.
With Joanne Courtney planning to step back from competitive curling at the end of the 2021-22 campaign, all the Ottawa-based team did was take its annual team picture and photoshop a Super Mario Bros. style question box over Courtney’s face.
That didn’t stop some fans from trying to guess who was under the box.
“I think some people thought that was an actual picture of the person,” Team Homan’s Emma Miskew said with a laugh. “No, that’s Joe.”
As it turns out, it not only wasn’t the newest team member in the photo, the person isn’t even a lead.
Team Homan made a blockbuster announcement Friday that Tracy Fleury, who skips the No. 2 ranked team in the world, will join Homan, Miskew and Sarah Wilkes next season.
Miskew told sportsnet.ca they’re not 100 per cent sure what the new lineup is going to look like exactly, but they’ll be starting with Homan and Fleury playing back-end roles of skip and third while herself and Wilkes will handle the front-end positions of second and lead.
“It’s a big change but it’s an exciting one,” Miskew said. “We’re all looking forward to a new challenge, new goals, a new lineup and a new player. We’re really going to miss Jo, but this is great to have Tracy come on board. We were really happy when we got the message saying she was in.”
When Homan, Miskew and Wilkes started searching for a new player, it wasn’t just about finding someone who could play lead but someone who would be the best possible fit for their lineup.
“We don’t have any egos there about having to play a certain position,” said Miskew, who has played with Homan since they were kids and have won a record 11 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s titles together. “That opened the door to not just look for someone who’s been playing lead but also looking for anyone who fits that mindset where: ‘Whatever position is best for the team is wherever I’ll play.’”
Fleury, who is from Sudbury, Ont., and her Manitoba-based team announced earlier this month they’ll be disbanding. Third Selena Njegovan and lead Kristin MacCuish have linked up with Kaitlyn Lawes and Jocelyn Peterman from Jennifer Jones’s squad to form the new Team Lawes for next season.
Once Team Homan found out Fleury was available, they knew they had to at least reach out to see if she’d be interested.
“We were trying to brainstorm about who would be the right fit for us, what position we were looking to fill and I think when we saw the opportunity to play with Tracy, we had to jump on it,” Miskew said. “She’s an amazing player and brings a lot of talent. She knows the game really well and she also seems like a great teammate out there. We’ve been playing against her for years and we could see that.”
Team Homan sort of got a jump-start on the lineup carousel when Miskew skipped the squad as Wild Card Three to a 4-4 record last month at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Homan was away competing for Canada in mixed doubles with John Morris at the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. The pair came close to qualifying for the playoffs having tied Sweden in fourth place with a 5-4 record, but they missed out on the medal round based on their head-to-head finish. If that wasn’t soul-crushing enough, Homan’s last shot of their round-robin finale against Italy rolled less than an inch too deep to give up a steal and lose 8-7 in an extra end.
Back on the other side of the world on home soil, the rest of Team Homan were doing their best supporting their skip.
“I didn’t get much sleep that stretch. As soon as we were no longer playing in the Scotties, I was up watching pretty much all of her games in the middle of the night,” Miskew said. “It was so close, heartbreaking to how it ended, but … she’s so talented and made so many shots. Mixed doubles is really hard, I think she did a really great job representing Canada. It was super exciting to watch and we were cheering super hard. Even while we were still playing, we would replay the games at the Scotties if we could so that we could watch after our games were done.
“I know how much work both her and John put in to prepare for that event against all odds with everything that happened leading into it. All the other countries had a very different preparation going in but with the mixed doubles trials being canceled they were just thrown into it very suddenly and I thought they performed very well.”
Team Homan have three tournaments remaining on the schedule with the Ontario Scotties provincial championship followed by two Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events: the Princess Auto Players’ Championship (April 12-17 at Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Centre) and the KIOTI Tractor Champions Cup (May 3-8 at the Olds Sportsplex in Olds, Alta.)
Miskew said it’s going to be tough but they’re really happy they get to play a few more events with Courtney before she calls it a career, ending an impressive run winning Canadian and world championships in 2017, representing Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games and capturing eight Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s titles together.
“She’s been a very good friend of mine and a teammate for a long time, so I’m really going to miss her,” Miskew said. “I am looking forward to playing these last couple of events with her. We’ll play the best that we can to end her curling (career) in a good way so she has a good finish.”