'Heartbreak and betrayal': No room for friendships in the business of curling

CBC

Forget curling free agency every four years after the Olympic Trials — teams are ready to make ruthless moves at any given moment in pursuit of getting better.

This isn't about four friends coming together. It's all business now.

In the span of a few days, Canada's curling landscape has shifted dramatically.

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The country's past women's and men's Olympic teams and last year's women's world champion representative team have all split.

"It's harder in Canada to compete with teams in other counties that are picking from the entire country. They pick all-star teams. There are no boundaries. It's a little tricky here," said Kevin Koe's lead Ben Hebert.

"The Canadian teams are aware and they're doing everything they can to keep up."

Last Thursday, it was announced Rachel Homan's Ottawa foursome was "parting ways" with Scotties first-team all-star Lisa Weagle.

Weagle was blind-sided by the news, shocked when she received the phone call from Homan.

"I wasn't part of the discussions and it was a decision that was taken by the team," Weagle told The Canadian Press.

Over 11 years, the foursome won three Scotties championships, one world championship and represented Canada at the 2018 Olympics.

Then the dominos started to fall.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press
Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Just a day later, Chelsea Carey's third Sarah Wilkes announced she would be leaving the team — a year after they won a Scotties title together and represented Canada at the World Championship in March 2019.

"It was an honour taking the ice with you every time," Wilkes posted to the team's social media account. "This is not an easy decision."

On Monday, Carey's team split completely.

Lead Rachel Brown and second Dana Ferguson announced they are "moving forward with different plans for next season."

Friendship or teammates?

In an interview with CBC Sports Monday afternoon, Carey wouldn't talk about any specifics relating to her team but spoke generally about the state of forming a curling team in Canada today.

"You're the general manager but you're also the player. In other sports there are people making the decisions," Carey said.

"It's a set up for there to be heartbreak and betrayal. They're your friends and then they're saying you're off the team."

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press
Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Carey says teams are trying to make every move possible right now to ensure they have the best chance at winning the Olympic Trials, now just 18 months away.

"Everyone is trying to get better and unfortunately you have to weigh what's more important to you in that moment, the team or the friendship. You're really torn between two perspectives."

Koe shakes team up again

It was less than two years ago Kevin Koe was forced to shake up his line-up after his third Marc Kennedy stepped away from the game for hip surgery and second Brent Laing moved to Ontario.

That meant the team had to find replacements, and fast — they quickly brought in Colton Flasch from Saskatchewan and B.J. Neufeld from Manitoba.

In the team's first year they achieved great success, winning last year's Brier and a silver at the world championship.

But after being the number one team in the country last season, they had dropped to fifth in Canada this year. At the Brier in Kingston they failed to reach the playoffs, losing in a tiebreaker.

That meant more changes. On Monday the team announced Flasch would no longer be part of the team.

"We just thought we had to make a move. At this stage of my career and Kevin Koe's career we don't want to sit around and wait," Ben Hebert said.

"We didn't have that luxury of time. The trials are in 18 months."

Hebert has been part of team changes before and says it's only to make teams better, not about personalities or relationships.

"As much as fans look at it as a negative thing, it's completely the exact opposite. They're positive steps to build great, competitive teams," Hebert said.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

He says curling is a business and sometimes difficult decisions have to be made.

"People pull at the heartstrings and all of that but the reality of it is, if we didn't try to make our teams better and wanted to play with friends, that's not going to get the job done."

That said, Hebert says there is no "bad blood" between the team and Flasch for making the move.

"There's no hatred. It's just business and us trying to win," Hebert said. "They're hard conversations. This wasn't a falling out. I have nothing but respect for Colton."

Hebert says they have a replacement already lined up that they will announce in the coming days.

"We're excited to announce who our new teammate is going to be. You won't have to wait too long."

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