Starting off strong can mean you don’t even have to get to the end before you can raise your stick in victory.
Just ask Barbara Palmer and Brenda Eger, the St. Albert rink that just became the first winners of the Ladies' division at the Alberta Stick Curling Championships. Their stellar performance in the final match during the March 27 championship came against the Dawn Gavin and Fay Crone team of the home rink at the Leduc Curling Club.
With three points right off the first end, another two in the third, and a one-point steal in the fourth, the win was basically a walk in the park, Palmer said.
“We came out strong in the final game. We scored three points in the first and I knew at that point we were going to win,” she boasted.
“I just knew Brenda was on the same page as I was. She was calling the right shots. She was making the right shots. I was throwing well. It was very exciting for us,” she continued. “We were up four on them on the last end. I don't think we even finished throwing all the rocks in the final end because we were up four and ran them out of rocks at that point.”
In past years, there was only one open division and all the teams competed against each other. Palmer previously competed on a mixed team with her husband Tom Steele.
Getting this win was a thrill, Palmer said.
"Well, I was absolutely stunned. As I said, my husband and I had played several competitions and had done fairly well, but to actually win a provincial title with Brenda was very satisfying."
This was the first year to offer a Ladies' event in the provincial championships. Next stop for the duo: Moncton for the Canadian Stick Curling Championships to be held April 22 to 25.
A growing sport; an inclusive sport
Both winners of the Alberta Men's and Mixed divisions featured wheelchair curlers. That, coupled with the rising popularity of the sport among seniors, illustrates that inclusivity makes the sport better and bigger. This year’s championships had a robust participation of 34, an increase of about 10 from the last time they were held.
“It was just a wonderful experience to get our wheelchair curlers out there. I think we had, I’d say, at least nine wheelchair curlers playing in the various events. I'm not sure that we're going to get as many at the nationals, but we certainly are getting more and more every year,” said Randy Olson, president of the Alberta Stick Curling Association and chair of the championships.
He added that nearly one-quarter of the 180 Alberta clubs are running stick leagues and that number increases every year. That’s also good business for the rink managers out there looking to make the most of the ice.
“They have unused ice allocation during the day. That's certainly available for stick curling. We in St. Albert here provide quite a bit of revenue to the St. Albert Curling Club for our Seniors' leagues. We have three leagues on Tuesdays and five leagues on Fridays that are all full, and we've got waiting lists.”
The St. Albert Curling Club will play host to the stick curling competition for the Edmonton and Area Tournament of Champions on April 8 and 9. The Alberta 55 Plus Games also runs April 7 to 10. Look for the Palmer/Steele Mixed team competing for provincial glory on Edmonton ice this weekend.