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Ottawa at the Olympics Day 6: Curling heartbreak and crucial hockey win

By Ethan Diamandas, Dan Plouffe, Martin Cleary & Charlie Pinkerton (This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.)

Ottawa at the Olympics Day 6: ‘A game of millimetres’

A millimetre is all it took…

A sliver of space was the difference between elimination and a shot at a medal for mixed doubles curling tandem Rachel Homan and John Morris in Sunday’s nail-biting match. 

Tied 7-7 versus unbeaten Italy, Canada pushed the pace in the first extra end. A win would’ve broken given the Ottawa-based team a leg up on Sweden for the fourth and final playoff spot, but it wasn’t meant to be. 

After Morris blasted away two guards with Canada’s third stone, Italy answered back with a beautiful draw near the back of the button. Canada called a timeout before Homan would throw the hammer with the team’s Olympic fate on the line.

“You got it Rach,” Morris said as Homan readied to throw. There was room on the button, and that’s what Homan saw. Her eyes narrowed in and the arena was silent as the stone rolled off her fingers. 

As the rock hurtled down the sheet, Morris screamed for a call on the line while he swept like mad. When it nestled on the back half of the button he screamed in frustration.

“Dammit!” Morris yelled. The 43-year-old gasped for air as the anticipation of the moment took hold. Canada and Italy were both close, and the official measured both stones twice to be sure. But Italy was closer by a hair, and, just like that, the dreams of a medal for Homan and Morris were squashed. 

“It’s a heartbreaking loss,” Morris told the Canadian Press. “That’s as tough as they get in your life. We battled with everything we had.”

Homan, who took the lead on line calls and sweeping strategies all week, said a few missed shots were the difference. 

“I’m proud of our efforts,” Homan said. “We were fighting for every inch out there. I just guessed wrong on a couple of them and that’s the difference.

“It’s a game of millimetres out there. One more shot and we’re into playoffs.”

After waltzing to a gold medal in mixed doubles curling at the 2018 Games, Canada will travel back home empty-handed, doing so in the most devastating of fashions. 

What went wrong for Homan and Morris?

It’s hard to pin down exactly what took down Canada’s powerhouse mixed doubles team. Some bad luck played into it, but Canada also found itself battling a very tough field. 

“I hope Canadian curling fans understand just how hard it is at the Olympics,” Morris wrote in a blog after the loss. “There’s never been a better field in mixed doubles curling, and all 10 teams here (could) have won a gold medal. There’s zero doubt in my mind of that.”

Morris said he was extremely proud of his team’s efforts, despite losses to Great Britain, Sweden, Italy, and the lowly Australian squad. The results didn’t show on the scoreboard, but Morris and Homan’s back-and-forth banter could be heard through the telecast, an indication perhaps they weren’t as in sync as they’d liked to be. 

There was plenty of frustration on display in Canada’s painful loss to Italy. Homan swore under her breath after Morris couldn’t straighten his sweeping out on their first stone.

Morris and Homan strategically debated every call — a normality in curling — but the pair oftentimes couldn’t get on the same page when it came time to sweep. Homan’s three different sweeping calls on the first rock of the extra end versus Italy exemplified their disconnect. 

For Canadian curling fans, it’s time to cheer for the four-person events, with the men’s team, skipped by Brad Gushue, starting play on Feb. 9 against Denmark. The women’s team, skipped by Jennifer Jones and highlighted by Ottawa favourites Dawn McEwen and Lisa Weagle, plays its first match Feb. 10 versus South Korea.

Odd delay sees Canada beat ROC wearing masks

Team Canada delayed stepping on the ice against the Russians because their opponents were still awaiting COVID testing results, and eventually came out wearing medical masks beneath their facemasks.

There is no doubt that the threat of COVID is being taken very seriously at these Games, and Ottawa’s Jamie Lee Rattray has seen it. 

“I’ve seen a couple of those instances where the sprayers come out for different things like buses, and people, and things like that,” the Team Canada winger highlighted during an interview with the Ottawa Sports Pages’ Dan Plouffe on their off-day before the ROC game. “They’re definitely taking all the precautions, and it’s definitely something that makes you feel safe as an athlete being in this environment. Whatever it takes to have a safe Games, I’m in.”

There is another silver lining to increased restrictions, Rattray added – her hockey team has spent that much more time together and become closer.

“Here we’re just kind of hanging out with each other and connecting as a group even more,” she indicated. “So this kind of becomes your family while you’re here, and that’s a neat energy to be a part of. We’re all looking forward to the common goal here, and I think that’s kind of how we’ve been all year with the pandemic.”

That chemistry contributed to Canada’s 7-1 win, and played into Rattray’s second Olympic goal. After Sarah Nurse forced a turnover on the forecheck, she slid the puck to Rattray who banged in a powerplay goal and celebrated with teammates. 

While there weren’t Canadian fans in attendance to cheer her on, Rattray said she still feels the love from her hometown. 

“We hear you all the way over here in China, so keep cheering virtually and we’ll do our best,” she pledged. “We’ve got a great group of girls on this team, and we’re gonna try our best to win a gold medal here.”

Blondin finishes 13th in 1,500 metres

Long-track skater Ivanie Blondin gave it her all in the 1,500-metre event, but it wasn’t enough, as she placed 13th, well off the podium.

Paired with gold medal Dutch skater Ireen Wust, Blondin fell behind early and couldn’t recover. After the race, Blondin said, per CBC’s Benjamin Steiner, she “probably” wasn’t going to compete in the women’s 5,000 metre – which she initially said she would – and will instead turn her focus to the team pursuit and mass start events. 

Day 7 Preview: Rattray gets long-awaited Olympic showdown

With both teams guaranteed either 1st or 2nd place heading into the elimination round, the stakes aren’t exactly enormous for the Canadian women’s team’s last game of the round robin, but it looks awfully likely it could be a preview of the gold medal game.

It’s Canada vs USA at the Olympics, and it’s the game Rattray has wanted to play in for about a quarter-century.

Jamie Lee Rattray’s shot is stopped during a Canada vs USA women’s hockey game in Ottawa on Nov. 23, 2021. Photo: Dan Plouffe

That dream began in Ottawa when she played mostly with boys for the Kanata Blazers growing up. She then joined the Ottawa Lady Senators of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League as a teenager and won a league championship in her final year.

Rattray also collected an under-18 national title with Team Ontario and a U18 world championship with Team Canada before heading off to Clarkson University in upstate New York.

The three-time Earl of March Secondary School athlete of the year led Clarkson to its first national title in school history and won the 2014 Patty Kazmaier Award as the NCAA women’s hockey MVP in her senior year.

Jamie Lee Rattray with the Brampton Thunder. File photo

She made her debut with the Team Canada senior women that same year, and played for the Brampton/Markham Thunder of the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League for a couple seasons while working a part-time administrative job.

When Rattray helped Canada win silver medals at the world championships in 2015 and 2016, her chances of making the 2018 Olympic team seemed solid. But it never happened. A disappointed Rattray looked to the positives, kept playing hard and worked at improving her all-around game.

“I’m not sure the reason, but it obviously was best for me,” Rattray said in a pre-Games interview with High Achievers columnist Martin Cleary.

“I figured out what worked for me as an athlete. It was heartbreaking, but in the end, I learned to love the game more and changed things to adapt.”

After a three-year absence, Rattray returned to the Canadian team for the worlds in 2019 and 2021, winning bronze and gold medals respectively. The 2020 world championship was cancelled because of the pandemic.

Rattray’s Olympic journey took another positive step last year, when she was invited to the national team centralization program in Calgary for the top 29 players. Canada could take only 23 players and, in the end, Rattray made the grade for the first time.

“(I took it) day by day, I did what I could under my control,” she said about her approach to making the Olympic team roster. “I’ve learned over the years you can’t control much. Just control your attitude and effort.

“The stress was there for everyone. It weighed on everyone. It’s still a trial and you all want to be on the team… Definitely going into December, it was stressful. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that. Being older … it also was important to check on the younger players … even if it was a regular conversation.”

On the road to Beijing (and before Omicron roared), Rattray got to experience a “very special night” on Nov. 23 when she got to play for Team Canada in an exhibition game “back where it all started” in Ottawa. “Honoured to be wearing the Maple Leaf in my hometown,” she wrote on Twitter, along with photos of her early hockey days.

Ahead of a battle with the USA, Rattray knows the key is stick to a good game plan.

“We have to support each other, be gritty and energetic,” she explained. “We have to stay connected all over the ice. If we stick with it, there are not a lot of teams that can beat us.”

Ottawa Olympians’ Day 7 Schedule:

View all of our local Olympians’ schedules here.

Almost a week of Olympic action in the books and we’re just getting started. Stay tuned as we preview some excellent Olympic storylines in the upcoming days, and make sure you have everything you need to know about the athletes from the nation’s capital.

This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.

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