Canada’s Einarson ran pandemic gauntlet to compete in a ‘normal’ world championship

The host team will have what’s felt like a rarity to them — a building full of unmasked fans cheering for them.

It’s been a journey for this team since winning its first Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask., in February of 2020.

They subsequently arrived in Prince George ready to compete for a world title when the first wave of the COVID-19 virus wiped out international sporting events, including theirs.

Einarson and company then ran the gauntlet of cancelled events, closed training facilities, adaptations and curling bubbles for almost two years.

“It’s been an absolute emotional roller-coaster that’s for sure,” Einarson said.

“You’re packing your bags to go to an event and all of a sudden, you’re unpacking them, so it’s been extremely challenging, but we have overcome so much adversity.

“We just kept pushing hard. Even if we weren’t at curling events, we were watching games, we were hitting the gym extremely hard, doing those off-ice things that helped us keep our game sharp if we couldn’t necessarily get on the ice.”

Sweeting, the team’s out-of-province player from Alberta, went months without seeing her teammates in person.

“Full kudos to Val,” Birchard said. “It’s been challenging especially last year when we weren’t able to travel freely between provincial borders.

“So to have her out there in Alberta on her own, still sticking with it, training on her own and not able to get together with us, I know that was extremely challenging.

“The amount of effort and work she’s put in on her end has been amazing and its translates so well when we’re able to get together two days before the Scotties without any practice together and win the whole thing.”

Einarson completed her Hearts hat trick Feb. 6 in Thunder Bay, Ont., in front of volunteers and a handful of junior curlers allowed into the arena on the final weekend.

Einarson’s team won their second Hearts and competed in the world championship in last year’s Calgary bubble with no fans in it.

“Last year was pretty quiet out there,” Einarson recalled. “This year, I think it’s going to be quite different.”

Einarson, 32, is a rehabilitation aid in Gimli. Sweeting, 32, is a case processing agent for Immigration Canada in Edmonton.

Winnipeg’s Birchard, 26, is self-employed and 28-year-old Meilleur of Petersfield, Man., works for an office furnishings company.

Einarson was a contender to represent Canada in Beijing’s Winter Olympics at November’s trials in Saskatoon.

The team struggled to find its form, however, going 4-4 and eliminated in a tiebreaker loss to Krista McCarville.

They’ve since brought on board coach Reid Carruthers, who plays third on Mike McEwen’s men’s team from Winnipeg.

“The key to our success is that we absolutely love playing with each other and enjoy each other’s company on and off the ice,” Einarson said. “We have a lot of laughs and a lot of fun. Definitely helps keeps things light.

“Bringing on Reid has helped so much. We were in a bit of a slump during the trials and then kind of after it, so bringing on Reid really has changed and brought out a fresh new look in us.”

Einarson opened last year’s world championship 1-5 before winning six of seven to make the six-team playoff in Calgary’s bubble.

That ensured Canada an Olympic berth in women’s curling, but Einarson fell short of the semifinals.

Rachel Homan (2017) and Jennifer Jones (2018) are the only Canadian teams to win a women’s world title in the last dozen,

“As Canadians, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves,” Einarson said. “Definitely our first goal is to make playoffs and then we’re going to go from there, but we definitely want to bring home gold.

“Can’t wait to get out there and wear that Maple Leaf again.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2022.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press