Coming back to The Scotties with the maple leaf on your uniform, signifying you are defending your championship as Team Canada, has its positives and negatives.
The positives, for Heather Nedohin, include avoiding the war of attrition that is the deep, deep field of good teams in the Alberta playdowns.
"I am," she said, simply, when asked if she was happy enough to be invited straight back to The Scotties as opposed to going through the Alberta ringer again.
“Lots of people had said to me (before last year's win) ‘are you even curling anymore?’ since I hadn’t been at The Scotties and I’m thinking ‘do you understand how hard it is to get out of Alberta?' It’s tough, tough to get out of Alberta but once you do you know you are in reasonable contention to do well at The Scotties if you continue to play at the level you were at in the provincials," she said.
The negatives? There might be a bit more pressure on Nedohin when the nation's best female curlers gather in Kingston next weekend to decide whether she gets to keep that maple leaf.
Kelly Scott, the 2013 British Columbia champ who successfully defended a Scotties title in 2007 did notice that there may have been a target on her back as well as the maple leaf.
"Certainly everybody is out, probably, to get Team Canada but there’s also many other provinces that you have to get up to play as well," said Scott.
Might be that internal pressure is more daunting. “We were on a mission to prove that we were not just a one-year wonder," remembered Scott.
If there is that kind of feeling present for Nedohin she isn't showing it.
“There’s definitely pressure because we obviously want to win. But, that’s no different than any other team that goes out there. Their objective is the same as ours which is to go out and win."
“We’ve played with pressure throughout the whole season acting as quote ‘Team Canada’ but for us, when we go into any event, we say we’re Team Nedohin," she offered matter-of-factly. “For any one of the teams the object is just to get to playoffs and then it’s a matter of any one of those four teams can win."
As Nedohin stated, brushing aside the best teams in Alberta can serve as an excellent primer for what lies ahead at any Scotties. Conversely, one might wonder of there is a drawback to not facing that kind of rigorous test.
"Yes, it’s different because we don’t have the playdown process," she conceded.
However, getting an automatic berth in the 2013 nationals as well as already having locked up a spot at this year's Olympic Trials has given Nedohin and her team the chance to tailor their season to their liking.
“It was really nice to look at our season as an opportunity to try out new things," she explained. "It was really nice to plan the season and not have to go as hard as we saw other teams doing to get points and to stay in the top of the standings. We could plan a season out around the other aspects of our life whether it was work or family, and make a schedule that worked to our benefit.”
Nedohin got off to a fast start, last fall, taking a tour event in Vernon, B.C. and then finishing third in the Canada Cup of Curling in Moose Jaw, in December.
With the minefield of provincial playdowns of no concern, Nedohin's team took part in the Continental Cup last month, then headed overseas to take on some of the world's best in Glasgow, Scotland, at the Glynhill Ladies International. After beating Eve Muirhead in the semi's, Nedohin, lead Laine Peters, second Jessica Mair and vice Beth Iskiw dropped an 8-1 decision to Swiss skip Binia Feltscher's rink.
“There were great teams there. The Swiss teams were there, the Russian teams... honestly it was like a mini worlds," said Nedohin, adding that it was an example of the type of thing a team can do when they get to tailor their schedules.
“It was a chance to play the world’s best and work on other aspects of our game, like jet lag, ice conditions and rocks in other countries. It’s been a really beneficial thing that we could try out these things. Now, we need to set our feet on our soil and set in to going to Scotties like we would, having won the province."
To that end, the team is spending the run up to the national championship rooted at Edmonton's Saville Sports Centre.
“We’ve got a great training facility here at the Saville Centre where they try to simulate the ice conditions that we will see at the nationals, being more swing and such. And fast. So, we’ve got a great opportunity to play among the top men’s and women’s teams in our community and prepare ourselves for the Scotties."
Nedohin, famously, was caught on mic at last year's Scotties uttering the word "s#!+balls" during a game. That got twitter all aflutter, leading to the word being used as a hashtag, along with a g-rated version, "sugarballs." As well, it spawned a little cottage industry, with red t-shirts carrying one version or the other plastered across the front. The skip says the t-shirts will be back this year and reports that requests for "the dirty version," as she puts it, far outstripped requests for "sugarballs."
“I’ve been quite surprised to the fan response and laughter about it. Something so minimal in seconds has spread like wildfire. What else can you do but laugh about it. You make a minor little mistake and people have found humour in it and I’m glad that’s the way people are approaching it.”
Had that happened late in the competition, it might well have been that no one would've heard Nedohin utter the infamous words. She's well-known as a skip who will inevitably lose her voice as a week of yelling takes its toll. Nedohin's been offered and tried all kinds of possible solutions in order to keep her vocal cords in shape; crushed aspirin, salt water, honey and lemon and even flat Coke or Pepsi. None have worked, not that it troubles her.
“I’m not a singer, so it really doesn’t matter," she laughed.
“It’s not detrimental to our team. We know how to communicate and the girls adjust. It hasn’t affected our game at all.”
What has affected their game is a very different kind of pre-Scotties schedule. Just how it's affected Team Nedohin will be discovered later this month in Kingston.