Veteran skip Krista McCarville has the blueprint down for how to approach a limited curling season.
Her Thunder Bay, Ont.,-based team of Kendra Lilly, Ashley Sippala and Sarah Potts usually focus on training and play in only three or four bonspiels due to work and family commitments.
The setup works for all involved and they've been consistent contenders at the national championships despite a sporadic competition schedule. With the 2020-21 calendar a work in progress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Team McCarville's formula is one that other teams may want to follow.
"Even though it's COVID times and not too many bonspiels are happening, it's kind of almost the same as we have (prepared) in the past," McCarville said. "We know our drills with practising ... even if it's just practising on our own, we're going out there with a purpose. We're not just going to shoot rocks."
McCarville's team made the playoffs at last year's Scotties Tournament of Hearts but settled for a fourth-place finish. She has reached the national playdowns in four of the last five years and qualified for the playoffs each time, with her best result a silver medal in 2016.
Several bonspiels have been cancelled or postponed this season and many curling clubs remain closed. Some facilities plan to open later this fall while others may not reopen until the New Year, if at all.
In addition, travel restrictions have impacted several teams. Many are competing in local or regional bonspiels instead.
McCarville plays in a competitive league in Thunder Bay with Potts and Sippala but their event schedule remains up in the air. Lilly, the vice-skip, plans to travel from her hometown of Sudbury, Ont., for weekend on-and off-ice training sessions with the team and coach Rick Lang.
"I think they really pride themselves in kind of being the best amateur team in the world, if that's accurate," Lang said. "They really are competing against (pro) teams that play full-time all the time."
Lang added that while touring teams are primarily focused on playing games at bonspiels, McCarville's rink does the opposite.
"They've seen the fruits of their labour and they're really committed to hard training," he said.
"Meaningful, impactful training" is the most critical piece for elite teams in this modified 2020-21 campaign, said Curling Canada high-performance director Gerry Peckham.
"Most of them come with all of the experience that you need to compete and prevail on an international landscape," he said. "So they don't need more exposure to ice conditions or strategic situations or opposition.
"What they really need is the opportunity to get their game sharp and to get back to the skill level that they were performing at arguably at the close of last season."
Normally Team McCarville would play a few events in the prairies, northern U.S., or southern Ontario, but travel is tougher with various restrictions in place.
"It's probably best that we just kind of stay within our district and do what we can do here," said McCarville, who's a Grade 6 teacher.
Unlike most elite teams that build around the ultimate goal of qualifying for the Winter Olympics, Team McCarville is more focused on success at the nationals.
"Our goal is always to win the Scotties," she said. "So we're definitely looking forward to the next four months of practising to hopefully gear up towards the Scotties. We don't even know 100 per cent if there will be (one) yet. But that's what we practise for."
The Northern Ontario playdowns set for late January in Kenora, Ont., remain on the schedule along with the Feb. 20-28 Scotties at the Fort William Gardens in McCarville's hometown.
McCarville would be a huge draw - a comparison to Newfoundland and Labrador skip Brad Gushue at the 2017 Brier in St. John's comes to mind - but first she would need to win the qualifier.
However, given that packed arenas and the normal festival-type trappings that come with hosting a Scotties or a Brier will likely be impossible this season, a hub approach in a fan-less arena may be a more realistic possibility for Curling Canada in order to salvage its remaining events.
The Continental Cup was one of six competitions cancelled last month by the federation. The status of the remaining events on the season remained unchanged, the federation said at the time.
The scheduled host cities for cancelled events agreed to host future championships instead. It's likely that Thunder Bay and the Brier host city of Kelowna, B.C., would follow that lead if changes are announced in the coming weeks.
Thunder Bay last hosted the Scotties in 1996.
Team Glenn Howard has confirmed that a member of its team received a notification from the COVID Alert app last weekend.
The player has since received confirmation of a negative COVID-19 test, the team said in a statement Tuesday night on Twitter. All four members of the team have been in isolation since withdrawing from the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard on Sunday in Waterloo, Ont.
The men's playoffs were cancelled as a precaution. Team Jennifer Jones won the women's event.
The Stu Sells Toronto Tankard is scheduled to begin Friday at the same KW Granite Club venue.
The World Curling Federation has expanded the field for the men's and women's world championships from 13 to 14 teams.
Italy will be included in the March 20-28 women's competition in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. China will be added to the field for the April 3-11 men's event in Ottawa.
Both countries had earned spots in the 2020 world championships that were cancelled due to the pandemic. Zonal qualifiers for 2021 were also scrubbed.
Erin Pincott and Matt Dunstone are the cover models for the 2021 edition of the Curling Cares Calendar.
The project supports numerous charitable initiatives. Also making calendar appearances are Jeff Stoughton, Kirk Muyres, Eve Muirhead and many others.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2020.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press