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Canada, Ontario open Tournament of Hearts with wins

Team Canada skip Amber Holland reacts to her shot while playing Newfoundland/Labrador at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts curling championship in Red Deer, Alberta February 18, 2012. REUTERS/Todd Korol

Todd Korol/Reuters

Tracy Horgan's team stands out in a field loaded with veterans at the Canadian women's curling championship.

The Sudbury, Ont., team's combined experience at a Scotties Tournament of Hearts prior to the first day of competition Saturday was zero. Every other team had one or more curlers with previous appearances in the tournament.

Horgan, third Jennifer Seabrook, second Jenna Enge and lead Amanda Gates showed few rookie nerves in their first game, however.

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They defeated Kim Dolan of Prince Edward Island 7-6 in an extra end. Dolan is skipping P.E.I. at the Scotties for the ninth time in her curling career.

"We're the only fully rookie team here," agreed Horgan, the youngest skip in the tournament at 25. "We feel like there's no pressure on us."

Manitoba's Jennifer Jones, defending champion Amber Holland, B.C.'s Kelly Scott and Saskatchewan's Michelle Englot joined Ontario at 1-0.

Dolan recovered to beat Kerry Galusha of Yukon and Northwest Territories 9-5 at night. Both teams were 1-1 along with Quebec's Marie-France Larouche, a finalist the last time the Scotties was held in Red Deer in 2004.

New Brunswick's Andrea Kelly, Nova Scotia's Heather Smith-Dacey and Alberta's Heather Nedohin started 0-1. Heather Strong of Newfoundland and Labrador opened with a pair of losses.

Larouche rebounded from an extra-end loss to B.C. in the first draw with a 7-5 victory over Strong. Englot stole single points in eighth, ninth and 10th ends to beat Nova Scotia's Dacey 7-5. Jones, a four time Canadian champion, defeated New Brunswick 7-3 to kick off her campaign for a fifth title.

The top four teams at the conclusion of the round robin Thursday advance to the Page playoff.

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Winning the Ontario women's championship Jan. 29 in Kenora was a breakout result for Horgan's team.

They beat perennial contenders Sherry Middaugh, Krista McCarville and Rachel Homan there. After losing to Homan's team twice, Horgan beat Homan when it counted — 7-6 in the final to earn their first trip to the Scotties.

Middaugh, McCarville and Homan have all competed in previous Scotties, so the Horgan team feels they belong among the 12 competing for a national championship in Red Deer.

"You have to treat it like it's any other game and don't get too caught up in the experience of the field and the names you're playing," Horgan said. "Just play the rocks and don't play the name because there's a lot of teams here with a lot of experience. (We) just try not to get intimidated by that."

The Horgan team worked with a sports psychologist for the first time this season. Seabrook, who is Horgan's older sister, says Nicole Dubuc-Charbonneau has made a difference in their performance.

"Absolutely. I'm a big advocate," Seabrook said. "We did need someone to kind of bring up our confidence. We were having a hard time beating Sherry Middaugh and Homan and McCarville. This year, we were able to do it all at provincials, which is quite the feat for our team."

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"It was more of a believing in yourself. It's easy to get intimidated playing these big names. I do think that's the biggest thing, building our confidence."

Horgan, 27-year-old Seabrook, 23-year-old Enge and Gates, 25, have represented Northern Ontario at the Canadian junior championship during their careers. Horgan finished just out of the playoffs with seven wins in each of her three national junior appearances.

The Scotties is a significant step up in television and media exposure, as well as far more curling fans in the building. Seabrook says when her team is not on the ice, she watches the pre-game routine of veteran curlers to see what she can learn.

"Off the ice definitely," Seabrook said. "On the ice, I felt we handled our first game very well with keeping the focus. We have been in a lot of pressure situation games so we could use that experience to our advantage."

Galusha's eighth time representing the Territories had a promising start. In addition to beating host team Alberta in an extra end in the opening draw, Galusha won the Ford Hot Shots sharpshooting contest that kicks off the tournament. Her reward was a two-year lease on car, valued at $10,500.

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