By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
Rachel Homan’s experiment got off to a winning start at the Canadian women’s curling championship Saturday.
Eyebrows raised when one of the most decorated skips in Canada handed another woman the broom ahead of this season.
With Tracy Fleury calling shots and Homan throwing fourth stones, Ontario’s first game of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts was a 12-3 win over Stacie Curtis of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“It’s just amazing to get another phenomenal, experienced skip on the team and lots of great curling IQ out there,” Homan said following the win.
“It helps to make more shots and get more opinions out there and find the right shot every time.”
Defending champion Kerri Einarson and Kaitlyn Lawes’ wild-card 1 team — both from Manitoba — were 2-0 after Saturday night wins.
Einarson beat B.C.’s Clancy Grandy 9-4, while Lawes edged Nova Scotia’s Christina Black 6-5.
B.C. and Nova Scotia fell to 1-1 alongside Prince Edward Island’s Suzanne Birt and Saskatchewan’s Robyn Silvernagle.
P.E.I. was a 10-2 winner over Nunavut’s Brigitte MacPhail.
Silvernagle won 11-9 in an extra end over Alberta’s Kayla Skrlik.
Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville, Northwest Territories’ Kerry Galusha and Casey Scheidegger’s wild-card 2 team joined Ontario at 1-0 with afternoon victories.
Six-time champion Jennifer Jones of Manitoba, who fell 11-8 to McCarville in a see-saw battle, Meghan Hunter’s wild-card 3 team, New Brunswick’s Andrea Kelly, Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges and Newfoundland’s Curtis were all 0-1 heading into Sunday.
Nunavut and Alberta fell to 0-2.
While a team’s name is generally the curler who skips, Ontario’s foursome has chosen to remain Team Homan, which is a name with considerable curling clout.
Homan skipped teams to three Canadian championships — reaching the final in three others — a world championship and an Olympic trials win to wear the Maple Leaf in the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
She and John Morris represented Canada in Olympic mixed doubles last year Beijing.
Fleury of Sudbury, Ont., came within a hair of representing Canada in women’s curling in Beijing.
Jones stole a point in an extra end to beat Fleury in the trials final in Saskatoon.
Fleury, Liz Fyfe, Selena Njegovan and Kristin MacCuish reached the playoffs of last year’s Hearts before the world’s No. 2 team disbanded.
With front-end player Joanne Courtney taking a breather from curling, Homan recruited Fleury to call shots and throw third stones, and shifted longtime vice Emma Miskew to second.
Homan ranked No. 2 both in Canada and the world behind Einarson heading into the Hearts.
“We knew Tracy was the whole package,” Homan said. “Amazing attitude, amazing shooter, she’s got big-weight accuracy. She can make soft-weight shots.
“She’s an all-around player you can put anywhere. We found a great spot for her leading the crew and keeping us in check and it’s been great.”
The move meant a reallocation of Homan’s curling energies in a game.
“It just changes your roles and responsibilities on the ice. I don’t think it freed up anything,” said the 33-year-old from Ottawa.
“I kind of let her take the reins on the strategy. Not all my energy is used there. I’m using a bit more with sweeping and judging and helping the other girls make their shots in the hack.
“Focusing on different areas and challenging yourself in different ways has been a really fun transition.”
Homan and Fleury establishing effective on-ice communication was key in getting to this year’s Hearts.
“Just being open and honest with each other, learning from each other, learning each other’s strength, we feel we keep getting stronger as the season goes on,” Fleury said.
And then there’s sweeping, which Homan does a lot of for the first time in her career.
“We train every year, but just a little more focused to make sure different muscles were beefed up a little bit more than others, and try to avoid injury right?” Homan said.
“Haven’t done a long 10-end event yet. Provincials were pretty long, but I know this is a little bit longer and I know it will be a tough week.”
Curtis shaking hands after eight ends at the Sandman Centre both conserved Homan’s fuel and gave pregnant lead Sarah Wilkes a breather.
Wilkes sat out the sixth and seventh ends, which provided alternate Kira Brunton some reps.
“We were happy with the game we put together today,” Fleury said. “My teammates played really well. We feel like we got a good handle on the ice.
“The ice is really good out there. We figured out what it was doing so that adds to confidence.”