TORONTO - Canadian skip Rachel Homan capped an eventful quadrennial with a season marked by highs, lows and the departure of a longtime teammate and veteran coach.
The core of the national champion rink has returned with new addition Joanne Courtney in the lineup, providing some fresh energy for a team with a new long-term goal of qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
"It's nice to have some new blood on the team and some new perspective and be able to reset for this four-year cycle," Homan said Thursday before a charity event at Weston Golf & Country Club. "We're really trying to push hard and learn from our lessons from last year."
The 2013-14 season was unique as teams adjusted their training and preparation to peak for the Olympic trials in early December. Homan had her Sochi dream dashed with a 10-4 semifinal loss to Sherry Middaugh, who fell to eventual Olympic champion Jennifer Jones in the final.
Homan had to refocus on making a successful title defence at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and she did just that. The mistakes that plagued her two months earlier in Winnipeg were gone as she ran the table in Montreal with 13 straight wins.
The reward was a berth in the Ford women's world curling championship. Homan's rink reached the final but dropped a 9-5 decision to Switzerland's Binia Feltscher.
Big changes soon followed.
A few days after winning silver, longtime second Alison Kreviazuk announced her plans to leave the team to be with her boyfriend in Sweden. Coach Earle Morris would also end his long run with the rink to coach his son John and Team Morris.
Team Homan added Courtney from Val Sweeting's team and began preparing a little earlier than normal for the new season. As Scotties champs, they have access to national team coaches and they used their input to help with the transition.
Courtney admits it was a tad daunting to join the powerhouse lineup of Homan, lead Lisa Weagle and third Emma Miskew.
"I've never been the new player on a team, so we had a lot of open and honest conversations," she said. "We were really methodical with our preparations."
Homan's rink is off to a solid start this season.
A semifinal loss at the AMJ Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic last month was followed by second-place finishes at the Stockholm Ladies Cup and the Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic.
"Jo is bringing some things to the team that we can add to our tool belt," Homan said. "I'm excited. It's going well so far. You never know with a new player. Everything changes — all of the dynamics."
Weagle has called Courtney the best women's sweeper in the world. It appears to be a great fit so far, with Homan noting that Courtney has a "great spark" about her.
"Jo is a go-getter and very motivated and a really strong player," Homan said. "It's just a different dynamic than we've had before. It's a really great dynamic, we incorporate it well."
The team is building towards the Feb. 14-22 national playdowns in Moose Jaw, Sask. Homan will be the Team Canada skip as the defending champions.
The Scotties winner will advance to the March 14-22 world championship in Sapporo, Japan.
"I think we're all really excited about where we're at," Homan said. "We've been able to enjoy the journey along the way."
Notes: Homan will next play at the Oct. 28-Nov. 2 Masters in Selkirk, Man. It's the first Grand Slam event of the season. ... Homan and her teammates practised at the Weston club before participating in the Bay Street Bonspiel. The charity event, presented by Pacific Rubiales Energy, raised funds for The Scarborough Hospital Foundation and the Canadian Hunger Foundation. ... Homan is a whisker behind Jones in the battle for first place in the Canadian Team Ranking System. Jones has 60.000 points while Homan is at 59.910. Middaugh is third at 44.750.
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