By Martin Cleary
During the closing ceremony of the 2022 Canadian women’s junior curling championship in Stratford, ON., the Emily Deschênes rink, representing Ontario and the Rideau Curling Club, received the silver medal.
A 7-5 loss to the Taylour Stevens team from the Halifax Curling Club put them on the medal podium’s second-highest level, and a step away from their first world junior curling championship.
But three weeks later, towards the end of April, Deschênes discovered there was a silver lining to her team’s silver-medal performance… at least for her. As well as winning the team silver, Deschênes also inherited the entire Nova Scotian team with the exception of skip Stevens.
Here are the bits and pieces of the puzzle that, when snapped together, create a world championship gold-medal picture and opens the door for an opportunity to win another world championship all in the same season.
By winning the 2022 Canadian women’s junior championship, the Stevens rink qualified to represent Canada at the 2023 world junior championship Feb. 25 to March 4 in Fussen, Germany. But the team had an age eligibility issue. Stevens would be overaged before the start of the U21 championship and couldn’t play a vital role for her team.
Deschênes, who turns 20 on Christmas Day, was aware Stevens wouldn’t meet the age requirement, but she never thought anything more of it.
Three weeks after the national championship, Deschênes received a social media Instagram message from the Team Stevens account. Deschênes, who was the Ontario U18 champion and national runner-up in 2019 and a member of Canada’s 2020 Olympic Youth Winter Games team, was asked if she would consider being the skip for the Halifax club team of third Lauren Ferguson, second Alison Umlah and lead Cate Fitzgerald.
Team Stevens wanted Deschênes to lead the Canadian charge at the world women’s junior B curling championship, which was the only qualifier for the main world junior championship in Fussen.
“It (invitation to skip) was from their Instagram team account. I don’t know who it came from or who I was talking to,” said Deschênes in a phone interview Tuesday from Lohja, Finland, using WhatsApp.
“I was shocked, but very grateful they reached out to me. Not only did they want me to skip their team, but also skip for Canada. I was very excited.”
Roll the calendar ahead eight months and Deschênes was excited again as she guided the Nova Scotian-based team to the gold medal at the world women’s junior B curling championship in Lohja. And Canada did it in fine fashion, winning all eight games in the 25-country competition – five round-robin wins and three playoff victories.
By reaching the world junior B podium, Deschênes qualified Canada for the 2023 world women’s junior A curling championship in Fussen. Canada was forced to play in the world junior B qualifying competition because it finished ninth out of 10 nations early last spring at the 2022 worlds. The bottom four teams at the 2022 worlds advanced to the Lohja world junior B meet and three of those teams earned tickets to the world junior A championship – Canada, Scotland and South Korea.
After winning all five round-robin games – defeating Italy 11-1, Brazil 8-3, Turkey 5-4, Slovakia 5-2 and Poland 8-6 – Canada felt fully prepared for the playoffs.
Canada scored four in the seventh end and Hungary conceded an 8-6 losing decision in the quarterfinals. Another four-pointer in the fourth end allowed Canada to defeat South Korea 6-4 in the semifinals and qualify for the world junior A championship. In the final, Canada led Scotland 3-0 after two ends and slid to the gold medal with a 5-4 victory.
“Our main goal coming into the ‘B’ worlds was to get on the podium first and after that, the next goal was to win,” Deschênes added. “Once we qualified (for worlds) we refocused for the final. It was a different mindset. When we knew we were going to Germany … the final allowed us to play for ourselves. There was a lot less pressure. We could enjoy the moment, even if we won or not.”
Winning the world B qualifying tournament without losing a game added to their overall excitement in Lohja and looking ahead to Fussen.
“[An undefeated record] was something we pushed for,” Deschênes explained. “Many of our games got close at the end. But we were able to push through those games and that set us up for the playoffs.
“We had to work to win each game and it definitely helped us as a team. It has set us up for the worlds (in Fussen).”
When all was said and done, it was a lot to digest at the moment for Deschênes.
“I think it was a surreal moment for all of us. It hasn’t sunk in yet. In the moment, it was very exciting. But we don’t want to get too excited. This is the first step,” she continued.
“This one ranks very high (on her highlight chart). It’s definitely very special. I’ve been in a national final and a Youth Olympian and they are all unique and different experiences. It’s hard to pick.”
Deschênes met her new inherited teammates in late August, when the team played in the U25 NextGen Classic in Edmonton Aug. 31 to Sept. 3. It was an encouraging experience as Deschênes and her new crew won four of seven matches and reached the semifinals, losing 8-2 to Saskatoon’s Skylar Ackerman.
“They all immediately said they wanted me as skip. When I first met them in person, they were very welcoming and supportive,” Deschênes said.
Since that first meeting, Deschênes has travelled to Halifax several times to train with her team and has competed in four competitions with her second rink. The four curlers also have weekly meetings on Zoom.
Deschênes is doing double duty as a skip this season as she also throws final stones for her Rideau Curling Club rink of third Adrienne Belliveau, second Emma Artichuk and lead Evelyn Robert.
They have curled in five bonspiels this season, winning the D&R Custom Steel Gord Carroll Curling Classic in Whitby, ON., and the Stu Sells Series U21 title in Barrie, ON. The team win-loss record is 16-10.
As for school, Deschênes is in her second year at Algonquin College. After taking a business fundamentals course last year, she is now studying business administration and taking her courses online.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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