Canada’s Rachel Homan entered her first world women’s curling championship full of confidence after a stellar performance at the national playdowns.
The young skip leaves the tournament with a bronze medal and the invaluable experience of dealing with adversity on one of the sport’s biggest stages.
Homan defeated Erika Brown of the United States 8-6 in the third-place game on Sunday morning, just hours after a crushing 8-7 loss to Scotland’s Eve Muirhead in the semifinal a night earlier. The young Canadian side was able to quickly put the defeat in the past and concentrate on reaching the podium.
“We’ve had to battle back, we’ve had to regroup,” Homan said. “I think we showed ourselves that we can come back, battle hard and fight to the end.
“I’m really proud of my team, how we played this week and into the playoffs as well.”
Scotland defeated Sweden’s Margaretha Sigfridsson 6-5 for the gold medal later Sunday.
There were some challenges for the Canadians on this trip. They arrived later than expected after spending an uncomfortable night sleeping on chairs in the Frankfurt airport when bad weather grounded their connecting flight.
Early nerves were a factor and ice conditions were a problem at times. The Canadians were handed some early losses — a rarity this season — and every game seemed like a battle to the final stone.
The low point came when Homan blew a glorious chance to reach the gold-medal game when she missed a double takeout attempt that gave Muirhead the victory in the semifinal.
The Canadians couldn’t hide their dejection after the loss. They had long, expressionless faces in the arena hallway and Homan needed 20 minutes to cool down in the locker-room before eventually providing a few pithy answers to questions from reporters.
Breakfast was optional Sunday and coach Earle Morris saw it as a good sign when everyone showed up at the meal looking to get energized. With the loss still gnawing at them, Homan and teammates Emma Miskew, Lisa Weagle and Alison Kreviazuk put on their best faces at the Volvo Sports Center.
“It’s always the toughest game for Canada because you come in here with high expectations and you’re interested in being in the gold-medal game and when you don’t get there you have to regroup,” Morris said.
“We all got together in the room last night, had a glass of wine, talked about it and said, ‘You know what? We have a responsibility to come in with a good performance.’ Today the girls did really well.”
The Canadians appeared loose and confident against Brown and gave the small crowd an impressive performance. Miskew said they weren’t as happy as they looked early on in the matchup.
“It was a hard game to play,” she said. “It’s not easy to come out after a heartbreaker like last night and play up to the level that you were playing last night in a game that isn’t for gold.
“But we did want to win that bronze medal so we faked it at the start. The faking it turned into more comfort and then we were able to start playing.”
Homan scored three points in the third end and never trailed after that. She nailed a hit for two in the seventh for a comfortable lead down the home stretch.
“She had just a dynamite game and made everything right from the last shot of the first end,” Morris said.
Both teams finished with a shooting percentage of 88 per cent. Homan led all players at 94 per cent.
“I think everyone was replaying everything in their heads and you have to just park it,” Kreviazuk said. “You have to let it go and move on to the next challenge and try to win the next one.
“If finding a way to win is putting a smile on your face, kind of trick yourself into being happy then that’s the way you’ve got to do it I guess.”
The victory celebration was rather muted. The intense Homan threw her final stone and didn’t even crack a smile as she slid down the sheet before embracing her teammates.
“We stuck together, grinded it out, made playoffs and missed the gold-medal game by one shot,” Homan said. “So I’m really proud of that. Just learn from our mistakes along the way and take the good experiences from it as well.”
The Canadians will likely take a few days off before preparing for next month’s Players’ Championship in Toronto. The next big circle on the 2013 calendar is the Olympic qualification event in early December in Winnipeg.
The team’s mental performance consultant, Dr. Natalie Durand-Bush, feels Saturday’s experience will help them in the long run.
“I mentioned last night, I said all champions have to learn how to lose,” she said. “As tough as it is, you’re not going to win every game and you’re going to lose some of these huge semifinal or final championship games and you’ve got to just learn from them.”
Morris liked how Homan responded after the loss.
“It shows some maturity to be able to suck it up the next day and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to play well and let the chips fall where they may,“’ he said. “And they played well and they got rewarded and that’s great.”
About 100 spectators were on hand for the bronze-medal game. A vocal group of Canadian fans were in the front row of the 1,000-seat venue.
Homan’s rink received support from back home, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper congratulating the team on his Twitter account.
Canada hasn’t won a world women’s title since Jennifer Jones was victorious in 2008. Alberta’s Heather Nedohin skipped Canada to a bronze medal at the 2012 world championship in Lethbridge.
Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott beat Sigfridsson in last year’s gold-medal game.
The men’s world championship begins Saturday in Victoria. Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs will represent Canada.
Homan and her Ottawa Curling Club teammates are all in their mid-20s and could be a powerhouse rink for years to come. It’s not the medal they were hoping for, but a third-place finish at their first world women’s championship was still an impressive achievement.
“You have to look at it like you won a bronze,” Kreviazuk said. “It’s still a medal for your country. We’re really proud that we were able to pull through.
“It’s nice to end on a high note too.”