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Ackerman, Sturmay and band of Scotties rookies roll at Tournament of Hearts

Team Saskatchewan skip Skylar Ackerman makes a shot against Team Prince Edward Island at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh Team Saskatchewan skip Skylar Ackerman makes a shot against Team Prince Edward Island at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
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Thirty-four years have passed since the last time an all-rookie team won the Canadian women's curling championship.

So 22-year-old Skylar Ackerman and her unbeaten team of Saskatchewan first-timers might be due.

In front of plenty of boisterous green-clad friends, families and supporters at Calgary's WinSport Event Centre on Sunday afternoon, the young crew from Saskatoon's Nutana Curling Club improved to 3-0 with a 6-5 victory over Ontario's Krista McCarville (1-2).

Tied with Ackerman on top of Pool A is another mostly-rookie team in Alberta skipped by 25-year-old Selena Sturmay, who won 8-6 over the previously unbeaten and four-time champion Kerri Einarson (2-1) of Manitoba.

On Sturmay's team from Edmonton's Saville Community Sports Centre, only second Dezaray Hawes boasts previous Scotties experience having curled the last seven years with British Columbia's Corryn Brown. That included appearances in the 2020 and 2021 national championship.

Brown was also victorious on Sunday as British Columbia (2-1) prevailed 9-5 over Prince Edward Island's Jane DiCarlo (0-3). The other matinee saw Quebec's Laurie St-Georges (1-1) win 8-7 over Newfoundland and Labrador's Stacie Curtis (0-2).

In the evening draw, Manitoba's Jennifer Jones (3-0) moved into sole possession of first place in Pool B after rolling to a 10-3 triumph over British Columbia's Clancy Grandy (2-1).

“So far, so good,” said Jones. “I feel like we're playing pretty well, and we're reading the ice pretty well, and making some big shots when we have to.”

In the other late games, Manitoba's Kate Cameron (2-0) edged the Yukon's Bayly Scoffin (0-2) 6-5, New Brunswick's Melissa Adams (1-2) beat Northwest Territories' Kerry Galusha (0-3) 7-5, and Ontario's Danielle Inglis (1-2) was an 11-6 winner over Nova Scotia's Heather Smith (1-2).

In addition to trying to become the first all-rookie team to win the Scotties since Ontario's Alison Goring in 1990, the last time Saskatchewan won was 2011 with Amber Holland at skip, who knocked off Jones in the final.

Holland, now 49, is back as the alternate for Ackerman, bringing a vast resume of experience that the others might lack.

“I don't ever have an expectation to play. Especially with these girls, they've worked their butt off to get here and they deserve to be out there playing every game,” said Holland. “So then my role, does it become more of a manager? Does it become more of a coach? That's a lot of the preplanning I do with the team on what my role is and where they feel comfortable having me."

As the youngest skip to ever represent Saskatchewan, Ackerman says having Holland sitting at the end of the rink alongside her Dad, Patrick, the team's coach, gives them a great additional resource.

“Amber has helped us a ton and helped us calm the nerves a little bit,” she said. “We worked with her a lot about planning and how we wanted to manage our schedule, and on ice and in team debriefs after games, she's helping share her skipping experience at this level so that we can keep learning and keep building every game.”

Holland, who skipped in three Scotties and has been an alternate six times, says she's liked what she's seen.

“Technically, the skills and abilities of the players, they can do it and we're seeing that here, and I don't even think we've seen them play their best yet.”

While soaking up the roars of the crowd, the selfies, and the autograph requests, winning doesn't hurt either.

"It helps us show that we belong," said Ackerman. "We're just really enjoying the moment out here and taking things one shot at a time and just making them one shot at a time and having a blast."

For Alberta, knocking off a juggernaut like Einarson was a confidence builder.

"The underdog story on us is maybe not as true as people are believing it, so I think we've just got to stick to our guns and know that we belong here," said Sturmay.

The poise of her skip has impressed third Danielle Schmiemann, who is in his first year curling with her.

“Selena is fearless, honestly, and I think they're learning that about her quickly,” said the 27-year-old Schmiemann. “She's young and she may not have the Scotties experience, but she is a fantastic leader and she's got nerves of steel — no fear.”

Alberta and Saskatchewan meet each other on Monday night, with Jones and her 18 Scotties appearances potentially looming down the line.

“It's great to see so many young skips here,” said Jones. “It's just so great to see some young players up and coming and it's going to be what we're going to be watching in the future. It's great for Canadian curling.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2024.

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