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Manitoba skip Michelle Englot changes teams for Tournament of Hearts

Manitoba skip Michelle Englot gives fives to her teammates as they take on Saskatchewan in the third draw of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in St. Catharines, Ont., on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017.


Three wins into the Canadian women's curling championship, Michelle Englot still felt weird about the buffalo on her back.

"I don't think it's going to wear off, really," the Manitoba skip said Sunday.

After running Saskatchewan's house seven times at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts during her career, the 53-year-old from Regina is as surprised as anyone she's wearing the crest of her neighbour province.

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Gaining an Olympic trials berth was top of mind for third Kate Cameron, second Leslie Wilson and lead Raunora Westcott when they sought a replacement for Kristy McDonald.

They were a strong team that lost last year's Manitoba final to Kerri Einarson, but McDonald wanted a break.

With her 43-34 career Hearts record and almost 30 years of competitive curling, Englot was the woman they called.

"She had a couple of things we wanted, which was someone with experience and someone who has done what we want to do," Cameron said.

"We wanted someone relatively close. We knew Manitoba didn't have the skip we needed that was available."

Englot's Regina team was going in different directions because of work and family commitments. Englot says she was encouraged to exchange green for yellow.

"They said I'd be crazy not to take the chance to play with an established team like this," she said. "It's exciting to play with these girls and they're so committed and talented.

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"I feel like a rookie. It is like a rejuvenation."

Manitoba and Ontario's Rachel Homan were out front quickly to 3-0 records by Sunday.

Englot downed Kerry Galusha of Northwest Territories 9-4 after beating Saskatchewan's Penny Barker 8-5 in the morning.

The weirdness factor was particularly high for Englot facing a team in the colours she'd worn so many times at the Hearts.

"I'm glad we got it over with early in the week actually because then that story is done and we can just move on," she said.

Homan cruised to 8-3 and 9-3 wins over Prince Edward Island's Robyn MacPhee and B.C.'s Marla Mallett, respectively.

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In the afternoon draw, Stacie Curtis of Newfoundland and Labrador defeated Mallett 10-5 to get to 2-0. Quebec's Eve Belisle picked up a first win, downing Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink 9-5.

Kleibrink, Galusha, Northern Ontario's Krista McCarville, Nova Scotia's Mary Mattatall and defending champion Chelsea Carey were all 1-1 with games to play at night.

Belisle was 1-2. Barker and MacPhee were knotted at 0-2 and Mallett was winless in three games.

Despite the Saskatchewan-Manitoba rivalry manifested mostly in the CFL, Englot said she didn't experience much backlash on social media for her switch.

"The buffalo is heavy," is a saying when it comes to expectations of Manitoba curlers. That's where she saw raised eyebrows.

"I was asked what I was thinking, going to the deepest province in women's curling," Englot said.

Her team beat reigning Olympic champion and seven-time Manitoba champion Jennifer Jones in a playoff game en route to a provincial title.

Curling Canada ruled in 2015 that teams could carry "one non-resident outside of the Member Association they choose to represent, but the other three players will be subject to stricter proof-of-residency rules."

Englot skipping Manitoba this year is a dramatic byproduct of that ruling, but Jones no longer lives in Manitoba. She resides in Ontario.

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