Any doubts about how much stronger Alberta women’s curling is going to be this year have been put aside this weekend.
Heather Nedohin, Kristie Moore and Val Sweeting — Alberta champs the past three seasons — have all qualified for the playoff round of the $27,000 HDF Insurance Shootout at the Saville Centre.
Toss in 2014 Scotties bronze medallist Chelsea Carey, who moved from Winnipeg to Edmonton this off-season and the talent pool had deepened.
Also in the playoff round are Swiss skips Michele Jaggi and Alina Paezt, along with Calgary’s Susan O’Connor and Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge.
All three former Alberta champs are starting season with revamped lineups.
In fact, Moore has a completely new supporting cast after giving up her champion bye for the 2014 provincials.
When she went back to school last year, the mom of three had to rejig her priorities and curling was put aside for one season.
Moore, along with two other team members, are still in school and plan a curtailed four-spiel schedule.
“Alberta will be very different this year, but it’ll be fun,” said Moore, who plans to be back in the playdowns hunt.
Sweeting finished her round-robin at 5-0.
The defending Alberta champ’s lineup is arguably stronger this year with the addition of third Andrea Crawford, an experienced Scotties skip who’s in the process of moving to Edmonton from New Brunswick.
“It’s not all going to come together in September but we feel real good out there,” said Sweeting. “It doesn’t really feel like our first weekend together.”
What Sweeting lost in sweeping prowess when third Joanne Courtney joined Scotties champ Rachel Homan has been made up with Crawford’s experience.
“Andrea brings so much experience to the team and she’s such a great shotmaker — she’s been clutch,” said Sweeting. “We’re happy with the new lineup and excited to see where the new season’s going to go.”
Nedohin has brought in third Amy Nixon to replace long-time teammate Beth Iskiw, who helped Nedohin with the 2012 Canadian title.
“It’s always good when you qualify and Nixon was the first to say ‘yea, girls, we got a Q,’ ” said Nedohin. “It’s a change in the lineup, but it’s not a new player. I’ve known Amy for a long time. Her being part of our team and coming in at the worlds (as fifth), she’s been part of our team dynamics for a few years now, so it’s an easy transition.”
BACK TO ALBERTA
After a couple of years wearing Saskatchewan silks, Brock Virtue has returned to Alberta.
Virtue made the playoff round with a B Event final win over Brendan Bottcher, joining Mick Lizmore, Jamie King and Matthew Blandford.
Bottcher bounced back with a win in the C Event final and the playoff field was rounded out with Aaron Sluchinski, James Pahl and Steve Laycock.
Virtue, who represented Saskatchewan at the Edmonton 2013 Brier, had to bring in sub Marc Kennedy when his regular third, Charley Thomas had to leave suddenly.
“It’s nice to be back in Alberta,” said Virtue. “It’s good to get our first qualifier under our belt, especially this weekend where we’ve had to deal with a lot of unforseeable circumstance.”
Thomas played the first game, but left when he got news that his grandmother had been checked into the hospital.
“I don’t know if Charley is coming back, but Marc will be able to play with us the rest of the way,” said Virtue.
The semis go at 9:30 Sunday with the final in both men’s and women’s events scheduled for 1 p.m.
It’s no huge secret that Canadian women have fallen behind their European counterparts.
Switzerland has developed some phenomenal depth.
Mirjam Ott, the 2012 world champion, represented Switzerland at the Sochi Olympics earlier this year and won this event in 2008, is now retired.
There are four Swiss teams in the top 15 of the World Curling Tour Order of Merit.
That includes rinks skipped by Jaggi and Paetz, who have qualified for this weekend’s playoff round.
They’re being coached by former Sandra Schmirler third and long-time CBC colour commentator Joan McCusker.
“It was a very good start, so we’re happy,” said Jaggi, whose team was the only other undefeated foursome going into the playoff round,
“There are so many good teams over here, so for us it’s always a good opportunity,” said Jaggi, a first-time competitor at this event who’s jockeying to take over as Switzerland’s top team. “We have four top teams in Switzerland, so we’ll see what happens. We are all close.”