SASKATOON - Team Tracy Fleury (Photo: Curling Canada) hope to draw on an experienced bench as they set to play the final at the 2021 Tim Hortons Curling Trials.
By: Dylan Chenier
The playoff picture at the 2021 Tim Hortons Curling Trials is starting to become a bit clearer, after Manitoba's Team Fleury won their seventh straight draw on Thursday night, securing a spot in Sunday's final.
Even if Fleury's rink drops their game to Team Jones on Friday afternoon, the St. Paul-based squad is still guaranteed to finish atop the standings.
This means that Tracy Fleury is just one win away from realizing her dream of representing Canada at the Olympic games.
"It's a big goal accomplished. The first goal was getting into the playoffs and now knowing that we have a spot in the final, it's really exciting," Fleury said.
The skip says she is both excited and nervous about the opportunity.
"A lot of excitement but a lot of nervousness as well I'd say, happy for the opportunity."
In her first seven draws, Fleury has gone undefeated, outscoring her opponents 62-31. Amongst skips in the field, Fleury currently leads the way at 87%, a +5 on the week. As a team, they are currently at 84%, ahead of team Jones at 83%.
"It's been tough. A lot of great teams, a lot of close games, it's been a battle out there."
While the excitement of being one win away from the Olympics is likely to be at the back of Fleury's mind on Friday afternoon,. her current focus is on winning their final round-robin draw.
"We want to come out and have a really good final game [against Jones], just make a lot of precession shots and then after that it will be about just making sure we're rested and mentally ready for the big game."
If Fleury is to beat Jones, she would be following closely in the footsteps of team alternate Chelsea Carey. At the 2017 trials in Ottawa, Carey, then skipping her own team, went undefeated in the round-robin before meeting Ontario's Rachel Homan in the finals.
While the 2017 Trials final didn't necessarily go according to plan for Carey, she hopes to be able to impart some wisdom on the young Manitoba rink.
"[Even though] we lost the game on Sunday, we actually felt like we wouldn't do anything different in the way we prepared. So, I'm happy to share that with the girls if they want that information," Carey said.
While Carey could certainly be a wealth of knowledge for Fleury and company, the veteran curler will only share information the team wants from her.
"I'm going to leave it up to them. Whatever they want and need, Sherry [Middaugh] and I are here to do. So, certainly more than prepared to have any discussions that they want to have about what I did, or what I thought worked or didn't work or whatever, so we'll see how they feel."
While Carey acknowledges that it may be a disadvantage for Fleury having never played in a Trials or Scotties final, she likes the team's chances regardless.
"I think it hurts you probably, in theory, [not having played in a final]. But, I think that this team is a unique one in the way that they approach it and the way they treat each other and are really a unit.
"I think that they're in as good a position as they could be without having had that experience. Nothing can prepare you for the pressure of [a] once every four yours chance in the final."
As for why Carey believes that this team is the rink to beat, she says it's all in the way they approach things, something that could help them handle the enormity of playing in an Olympic Trials final.
"They just have a good attitude as a team, they're not super tense, they keep everything pretty light so they're set up pretty well just based on their kind of identity as a team, to be in a pretty good position on Sunday despite the pressure that goes with that."
Like Carey, Team Fleury coach Sherry Middaugh also has experience playing in a Trials final. At the 2013 event in Winnipeg, Middaugh's Ontario rink lost to hometown-heroes Team Jones in the final.
Middaugh says that she can Carey have been drawing on their previous trials expellers throughout the week.
"We are, and I think that helps the girls. Even though they had never been to a Trials previously, they had a number of big events, but it's still a little different."
While the team has never experienced an Olympic Trials before, let alone the finals, Middaugh expects the team to keep their focus on the task at hand.
"You don't have to think differently, just rely on what's gotten you here. There's more at stake, but it's exactly the same."
Like Carey, Middaugh believes this team's positive attitude will prove to be a positive come Sunday.
"They're so light and upbeat, which will help them get through the stressful situations. But I think for Chelsea and I, it's just a matter of keeping them focused."
For the team, Fleury says the experiences of Carey and Middaugh have been a valuable asset and something the team will draw on more as the finals approach.
"It's nice that we have the luxury that they've been there before so they bring a lot of experience and wisdom, we'll definitely be chatting with them about it."
The remaining playoff field will be decided during Friday afternoon's Draw 17. So far, Jennifer Jones is the only other team to guarantee themselves a playoff spot, earning a place in Saturday's semi-finals
The women's final at the 2021 Tim Hortons Curling Trials takes place Sunday morning at 11:00 AM CT.
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