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Nunavut edges Quebec to win main draw game for first time at Scotties

Team Nova Scotia members guided a stone thrown by MP for Sydney-Victoria Mark Eyking. Eyking’s near perfect shot officially kicked off the tournament.
Team Nova Scotia members guide a stone thrown by MP for Sydney-Victoria Mark Eyking at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Eyking’s near perfect shot officially kicked off the tournament at Centre 200. ERIN POTTIE

SYDNEY, N.S. — The list of surreal moments keeps getting longer for Nunavut vice-skip Jennifer Blaney at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Receiving a competitor necklace at the players' reception Friday started things off. Joining the best curlers in the country for the opening ceremony was a nice follow-up Saturday afternoon.

Helping Nunavut win its first-ever main draw game at the national women's curling championship — a 4-3 victory over Quebec's Gabrielle Lavoie — took things to another level.

Not bad for an Ottawa-based recreational league curler who only met her teammates last fall.

"I don't have any elite exposure whatsoever to curling," Blaney said. "I went from the basement to the palace I guess."

Blaney, 48, throws fourth stones and is the import player on a rink that includes Megan Ingram, Alison Griffin, skip Jenine Bodner and alternate Sadie Pinksen, who are based in Iqaluit.

Nunavut is making its fourth Scotties appearance overall and second in the main draw.

Geneva Chislett skipped Nunavut to a 1-2 record in the 2016 Scotties qualification round. The unpopular relegation format was scrapped last year, giving every province and territory a spot in the main draw of the 16-team competition. 

Chislett went 0-3 in the 2017 qualifier and import skip Amie Shackleton was 0-8 in the main draw last year.

Lavoie, who made her Scotties debut on Saturday for a young Quebec team, had hammer in the 10th end of a tied game. But her takeout attempt rolled out to give Bodner a single point and the historic win.

"We call ourselves the little Nunavut that could," Bodner said.

Pinksen, 19, was an alternate with Chislett and has made seven straight appearances at the Canadian junior championships. She threw first stones Saturday with Ingram out due to illness.

Bodner, 34, has curled with Chislett in the past and played in the 2017 Canadian mixed playdowns. Griffin, 38, played in the mixed last year while Ingram twice competed at the Travelers Curling Club championship.

Like the players, Nunavut coach Susanne Martin was beaming after the victory.

"We came out to compete and to show that we know how to curl and we earned our spot here," she said. "We've done that, so we're so happy."

Martin, who lives in Ottawa, has curled with Blaney before and recommended her last summer. The new teammates played their first bonspiel together last October in the nation's capital and clicked right away.

"Our communication on the ice — it kind of felt like I knew these girls forever," Blaney said. "I was just so thrilled. They blindly went into having me on board and I think it's phenomenal."

Blaney, who works as an analyst for Canada Border Services Agency, made the trip north for the three-team territorial playdowns in December.

An avid curling fan, she'd normally be watching the Scotties from home. 

Instead she was taking in the moment Saturday as the bagpipes played before the athletes marched into Centre 200 for the team introductions. Surrounded by curling's elite — Jennifer Jones, Rachel Homan, Chelsea Carey and others — made it a memory to cherish.

"You're mingling and hanging out with people that you see on TV every other week," Blaney said. "You grew up watching them or you're extremely familiar with them. You're rubbing elbows with these people. You're one of them.

"It is mind-boggling. It's absolutely crazy."

Quebec and Nunavut showed plenty of early jitters on the unfamiliar arena ice. Lavoie's team still primarily curls at the junior level and the spotlight got to them late in the game.

After playing defence over four blank ends to retain hammer in the 10th, Lavoie's nerves were evident. Her first throw in the end sailed through the house before she missed what could have been a game-winner.

Nunavut had pulled even in the fifth end after catching a nice break. 

Blaney lost her balance coming out of the hack with her final throw but still managed a decent release. The rock was wide and curled just enough to catch a piece of the eight-foot ring for a single.

"That was a Jenn special," Blaney said with a laugh. "That's my signature shot. I do that at least once a game ... oh my goodness, those girls dragged that rock and we ended up scoring that end."

Blaney yelled out "I love you ladies!!" and raised her arms up and down in a Wayne's World-inspired gesture of appreciation.

Nunavut wouldn't trail again. Next up is a Sunday morning matchup against the top-ranked Homan. 

"Never mind the No. 1 women's team in the world, she's the No. 1 team in the world — Rachel Homan," Blaney said. "It's very humbling. It's very exciting. We just want to give them a good run for their money."

Homan and her Ontario rink opened with a 6-4 win over Northern Ontario's Krista McCarville. Carey's Alberta team edged Manitoba's Tracy Fleury 7-6 and British Columbia's Sarah Wark scored four in the 10th end for a 7-6 win over Nova Scotia's Jill Brothers.

In the late draw, Jones beat Saskatchewan's Robyn Silvernagle 6-5 and Team Wild Card's Casey Scheidegger dumped Yukon's Nicole Baldwin 10-2. 

Prince Edward Island's Suzanne Birt walloped Kelli Sharpe of Newfoundland and Labrador 14-3 and Kerry Galusha of the Northwest Territories topped Andrea Crawford of New Brunswick 11-5.

Three draws were scheduled for Sunday. Play continues through Feb. 24.

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Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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