A year ago, Shannon Kleibrink was laying on a Hawaiian beach recovering from surgery for kidney cancer.
She was receiving texts from her Calgary teammates, who, with super sub Amy Nixon at skip, managed to win the World Curling Tour Prestige Hotels Curling Classic in her honour.
Kleibrink, who turns 45 next week, is happy and healthy this year and one of the favourites in the starry women’s field of 32 rinks chasing $35,000. The women’s final goes today at 3 p.m. at the Vernon Curling Club.
“It feels great to be back,” said the smiling Kleibrink, who also went to New York for a Yankees game in her cancer surgery recuperation.
“We just want to be somewhere on the chart as far as the CTRS (Canadian Team Rankings System) goes. This is the first year in a long time we’ll have to earn our way back there (provincials) so either Alberta Tour or enough points on the CTRS.”
The Kleibrink foursome has moved second Bronwen Webster to third and promoted lead Kalynn Park (daughter of curler Kevin Park) to second. Chelsey Matson is lead.
“It’s just kind of getting used to each another on the ice, but Kalynn is a great player. She throws harder than anybody I’ve ever seen. She’s really good.”
In A side semifinals Friday night, Moscow’s Anna Sidorova pulled a huge four-ender in the sixth to brush back Kelowna’s Kelly Scott 8-2 to qualify for the eights.
In the other A qualifier, Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott needed an extra end to stop Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard 7-6. The veteran skips went back and forth all game, with Bernard counting one in seven and stealing a deuce in eight to force the extra end.
In the A event quarterfinals earlier Friday, Sidorova iced Grande Prairie, Alta.’s Kristie Moore 7-3; Scott grounded Japan’s Satsuki Fujisawa 7-3; Bernard clipped Edmonton’s Jesse (Mighty Mouse) Kaufman 5-4 in an extra end; and Ott shaded Kleibrink 4-3.
At 24, Kaufman was by far the youngest of the A event quarterfinal skips. She respects the veterans, but isn’t awed to the point of being paralyzed playing them.
“I definitely look up to ‘em,” said Kaufman. “There are a lot of inspirational stories there so you kind of wanna build your own story from that, but I don’t really feel intimidated. I feel like everybody here is good enough to beat anybody at any given time so we just kind of focus on our game and go on from there.”
Kaufman’s regular lead, Stephanie Enright, is expecting a baby in late November so 51-year-old Cori Morris will toss first rocks in Vernon. Jessie’s older sister Nicky is third and Kelly Erickson plays second.
Kaufman, who is a striker and midfielder in soccer, said everybody on her team has a personal trainer as they try to gain an edge in the booming women’s world, where the recent Saskatoon cashpiel increased from 32 to 48 teams and the Edmonton and Vernon classics rose to 32 from 24.
“We’re going to be playing three games today so we have to make sure we’re in shape coming into this season so we can handle it.”
An employee with Olson Curling Supplies, Kaufman knows all about the history behind world-class skips like Bernard, Scott, Kleibrink and Ott.
“Before I was even on the ice, I was on the ice watching some of these girls. It’s cool to play them. Actually, I think it was the first year we played here, we played Kelley Law (of Richmond) and she was one of my idols growing up and that was really cool. And I think we beat her.”
Kaufman and everybody else is here trying to get ranking points towards the 2013 Olympic Trials. She is also stoked about the provincials in Lethbridge with a trip to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Kingston, Ont. on the line.
Ott, one of the most talented ladies here at 50, fielded questions about preparation and strategy at a Vernon club clinic Wednesday night. She’s also expected to be one of the eight qualifiers.
“It’s an important season for us,” said Ott. “We want to make sure we try to represent Switzerland again at the Europeans so it means we have to win the qualifications out in Switzerland.”
She also keeps in shape with offseason workouts.
“It’s our second bonspiel of the season and we know we have to do a lot of work. We do a lot of physical training in the summer with lots of running and we feel pretty well.”
On whether she loves competing in Vernon, Ott said: “Absolutely, we feel very comfortable in Vernon. It’s like coming back to our second home and we are happy that we are back here after three years here.”
On the men’s side, Jamie King of Edmonton is riding high with former world champions Blake MacDonald and Scott Pfeifer on his new roster.
MacDonald, who won a world ring with Kevin Koe in 2012, skipped King’s rink to victory at the Saville Shootout cashspiel two weeks ago in Edmonton. Pfeiper, a three-time world champ with Randy Ferbey, is throwing second rocks.
“We only had one rule on the team and that was if we win a spiel, we weren’t switching,” chuckled King. “We did win a spiel so we’re keeping the same lineup; we’re not changing a thing.”
King and company went 6-1 at the Shootout, losing only to David Nedohin, who also enjoyed three world titles with the Ferbey Four. They are in their rookie year as a foursome.
“He’s not here, thank God. We told him not to come,” joked King. “We just have a lot of fun. It’s just a bunch of guys who have nothing to lose and we’re going out to have a good time and get back to curling the way we want it to be played which is having fun, winning games and coming here.”
The 2013 Tim Hortons Brier is in Edmonton and heavyweights like Koe and Kevin Martin will be the kingpins.
“We’re just taking the mindset, just win a few games and get in the playoffs and you never know what happens,” added King, making his first appearance at the Vernon cashspiel.
Jim Cotter of Vernon is also testing a new back end this weekend after back-to-back provincial titles. Jason (The Gunner) Gunnlaugson of Winnipeg has replaced Kevin Folk of Kelowna at third.
“Kevin took a job with the Calgary police force, something he’s wanted to pursue for a long time so obviously we’re happy for him and sad at the same time to lose him. But, we have a great pick-up in Jason Gunnlaugson moving here from Winnipeg. He’s here working for his uncle, Garry VanDerBerghe, so we’re excited.”
Gunnlaugson is well-known for his amazing weight peel shots and made international curling news when he was hired and then fired by Team Russia.
Cotter, who kept trim by building a house this summer, of course wants to three-peat as B.C. champion and rack up points as well.
“It’s gonna be a busier year for us, definitely,” said Cotter. “It’s a big year for the Olympic qualifying process and so forth so I’ve pumped up our schedule a little bit and we’ll see how many points we can get.
Following Friday’s action, Calgary’s Steve Petryk and New Westminster’s Brent Pierce were the only remaining undefeated rinks at 2-0. Cotter and fellow Vernon skip TJ Perepolkin were both 0-2.
There are 16 rinks going after $26,000. The men’s final goes Monday at 3 p.m. with the semifinals at noon.