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Curlers drawn to diversions in bubble life


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CALGARY — Plans to curl in a bubble had to include how relax and recharge between draws, since the athletes in the Canadian women’s curling championship are confined to the arena and their hotel.

With the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary being held without spectators to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the women have more free time than they would normally have.

There are no autograph sessions with the public. 

The Heart Stop Lounge, where curlers engage with fans via question-and-answer sessions, and where they might grab a beverage on a night off, isn’t part of the experience this year.

Shopping, sightseeing, restaurant meals out with family and friends, or socializing with other teams at the hotel aren’t either.

Puzzles, books, watching and streaming their favourite shows, board and digital games with teammates and video calls with family and friends who can’t be in the Markin MacPhail Centre are common down-time diversions.

Quebec skip Laurie St-Georges’ quest for a mental break from curling has forced her into a relationship taboo.

“My boyfriend isn’t going to be happy, but I’m going to watch my show. It’s “Trailer Park Boys,”” she declared. “I’m going to watch it without him.”

Northwest Territories lead Shona Barbour polished off a puzzle on opening weekend, says skip Kerry Galusha.

The Jennifer Jones team declared lead Lisa Weagle the queen of “Yahtzee”. 

When Alberta skip Laura Walker returns to her hotel room, husband Geoff, who plays lead for Brad Gushue in the upcoming men’s national championship, and their infant son Liam are there.

“We’re just keeping a baby alive every day is what I’m here doing and curling in between,” Walker said. “If he wasn’t here, I’d probably be just lounging around watching “Free Britney” documentaries.”

Kerri Einarson, skip of Team Canada, is catching up on the show “Yellowstone”, while “Grey’s Anatomy” is the go-to for Saskatchewan second Chaelynn Kitz. 

Ontario second Sarah Wilkes says she’s over 200 pages into author Delia Owens’ “Where the Crawdads Sing.” 

“We’ve got a couple puzzles kicking around,” Newfoundland and Labrador skip Sarah Hill said. “I think everyone has a book or two to read. 

“Trying to keep it as casual as we can in our down time to just mentally step aside from curling for an hour or two so we don’t have to do it all day long.”

Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson and third Nancy Martin play crib. Anderson misses the social aspect of the tournament in her eighth Tournament of Hearts.

“There’s so much more to the Scotties besides curling on the ice,” Anderson said. “There’s fans, there’s the autograph sessions. You meet people, you see people from years past that have been going and watching for decades.

“You get to have conversations with some of the other curlers. We’re not getting really any of that. We meet in the hallway and you might say ‘hi’. 

“You feel you can’t do anything more than just say ‘hi’ and you don’t even know who it is because they have a mask on.”

But Ontario skip Rachel Homan is fine with just putting her feet up between draws because she’s in her third trimester of pregnancy.

“There is a little bit more down time,” Homan said. “Personally, it’s not a bad thing that we don’t have to run around from restaurants to different requirements. 

“We wish friends and family could be here. That’s definitely something we’re all missing right now.”

A dearth of televised curling games this winter because of the pandemic has Einarson’s second Shannon Birchard tuning into other games when she’s not on the ice.

“It’s fun to have curling on TV when we’re back in our hotel rooms,” Birchard said. “Just watching that is something that we’ve missed a lot. Even that is something that just brings up your mood.”

Curlers who don’t make the championship round will exit the bubble Friday and those who aren’t among the three playoff teams head home Sunday. The semifinal and final are Sunday.

For those playing in a Tournament of Hearts for the first time in their lives, a bubble provides a less intimidating introduction for rookies.

“We’ve never been here before so we don’t really know about the autographs and fans in the stands,” Quebec third Hailey Armstrong said. 

“It’s nice to have some down time in the hotel. We’re all students, so we have lots of homework to do as well.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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Michael Hutchinson earns 31-save shutout, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 3-0

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EDMONTON — Michael Hutchinson earned his sixth career shutout, and the Toronto Maple Leafs blanked the Edmonton Oilers 3-0 on Monday. 

Hutchinson stopped all 31 of the shots he faced as the Leafs (17-4-2) shutdown Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and their teammates for a second straight game.

Toronto also blanked Edmonton 4-0 on Saturday with Jack Campbell in net.

Morgan Rielly and WIlliam Nylander had a goal and an assist apiece Monday, while Zach Hyman also scored for the NHL’s top team.

Oilers (14-10-0) goalie Mikko Koskinen allowed three goals on 10 shots before being replaced by Mike Smith to start the second period. Smith had 13 saves in relief.

Toronto was without Auston Matthews for a second straight game as the team’s star centre recovers from a wrist injury. 

Matthews — who has 31 points (18 goals, 13 assists) on the season — is travelling with the team and took part in an optional skate with his teammates on Monday. 

Toronto’s first shot of the night didn’t come until 7:19 into the first period, but it was worth the wait as Rielly put a pass on Hyman’s tape and the forward sent a nifty backhanded shot past Koskinen to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead. 

Three minutes later, Nylander collected the puck off a faceoff and streaked deep into the Edmonton zone. He sailed a backhander over Koskinen’s glove and into the top-left corner of the net. 

A power-play strike rounded out the first-period scoring after Edmonton’s Adam Larsson was called for hooking. 

Rielly uncorked a blast from near the blue line and, while Koskinen got a piece of it, he couldn’t control the puck and it dribbled through his legs and over the goal line, giving Toronto a 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission. 

The Leafs came into the game with the league’s top-ranked power play, having capitalized on 32.4 per cent of their chances with the man advantage. 

Toronto was 1 for 4 on the power play Monday. Edmonton failed to capitalize on any of its four chances.

The Oilers had ample opportunities to claw out a goal in the third period, outshooting the Leafs 13-8 across the frame, but couldn’t beat Hutchinson.

The 31-year-old goalie’s last shutout came on Jan. 4, 2020, when he led Toronto to a 3-0 victory over the New York Islanders. 

The Leafs and Oilers will wrap up a three-game series in Edmonton on Wednesday. 

NOTES: Earlier on Monday, the Oilers claimed goalie Alex Stalock off waivers from the Minnesota Wild. … Toronto defenceman Jake Muzzin played in the 600th game of his NHL career. … The Leafs have never lost at Edmonton’s Rogers Place during regulation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Mar. 1, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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CP NewsAlert: Alberta lifts some COVID-19 economic restrictions, delays others

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EDMONTON — Alberta is lifting more economic restrictions tied to COVID-19 while delaying others.

Premier Jason Kenney says low intensity group activities, like Pilates, can resume in fitness centres, and libraries can open at 15 per cent capacity.

But he says loosening measures for retail shops, hotels and community centres can’t happen yet.

He says COVID-19 cases have plummeted in long-term care homes and hospitalizations have dropped, but cases of the variant are worrisome.

Some medical experts, including the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association, warned the province last week against loosening public-health measures.

This is Stage 2 of a four-stage plan to reopen the economy announced by Kenney a month ago.

In Stage 1, restaurants were able to reopen for dine-in service, gyms were allowed to resume one-on-one fitness training and some restrictions were lifted on youth sports.

The Canadian Press

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