By Martin Cleary
In the tight-knit world of curling, Jamie Sinclair of Osgoode, ON., and Emily Deschênes of Ottawa are recognized as established skips, the leaders of their packs.
But when the 2023-24 curling season opens in the fall, two of Ottawa’s top female curlers will be delivering rocks from unfamiliar positions and with new teams.
Sinclair, who has made her mark as a curler in Canada and the United States, has been recruited to play third and bring experience to the young rink skipped by Laurie St-Georges of Laval-sur-la-Lac, PQ. The 2022-23 season saw Sinclair serve as the fifth player on the Chelsea Carey team out of Winnipeg.
Deschênes concluded her successful junior career this season and is ready to step full time into the women’s tour. After announcing on Twitter earlier this month her team was separating and that she was a free agent, Deschênes was almost immediately contacted by Kristy Watling of Winnipeg and became a team member within a few days. Deschênes will play second, replacing Emilie Rafnson.
“It was a very bittersweet moment,” Deschênes said about parting ways with third Adrienne Belliveau, second Emma Artichuk and lead Evelyn Robert. Deschênes and Artichuk started curling together in Little Rocks and played together for 10 years.
“It was definitely a decision I didn’t take lightly. It was very emotional to go our separate ways because we have so much history.”
Robert, who will remain a junior next season, played for Deschênes for two seasons, but Belliveau, who was the team’s fifth player at the 2022 Canadian junior championships, joined the team this season.
“As I’m entering women’s curling (in 2023-24), I wanted to branch out and challenge myself,” Deschênes said in a phone interview this week. “It was my decision to step away and to see what was out there. I wanted to challenge myself next season.
“I think it will be a lot of fun. It will be a little challenging at the first, but I love new challenges. I can’t wait to learn from my new team and about my new position. It’s exciting to start something new. We’ll see what happens.”
Deschênes, a 20-year-old Algonquin College student, is looking forward to joining her new Winnipeg-based team and travelling with the Watling rink.
“They are three great individuals and players,” Deschênes said. “I thought joining a team that was already established was a big asset. They have a foundation. They’re committed and driven.”
After reaching the 2022 Canadian junior women’s final and losing the gold-medal game to Nova Scotia’s Taylour Stevens, Deschênes later found a silver lining to go with her silver medal.
For Canada to attend the 2023 world junior championships in Fuessen, Germany in March, it needed to finish in the top three at the world junior B championship in Lohja, Finland, last December. Stevens couldn’t skip the Canadian rink as her junior eligibility had expired and Deschênes was asked to be the replacement skip.
Deschênes, third Lauren Ferguson, second Alison Umlah and lead Catherine Fitzgerald posted an unblemished 8-0 preliminary-pool and playoff record to win the world junior B title and advance to the world junior championship.
At the primary world juniors, the Deschênes’ rink placed eighth with a 2-7 record and was relegated to the world junior B championship again next December with the United States, Germany and Latvia.
Domestically, Deschênes, Belliveau, Artichuk and Robert qualified for the Ontario junior (U21) championship at the R.A. Centre for Curling Excellence and reached the semifinals.
“We’ve experienced so many great memories both on and off the ice and we’ll always reflect on those amazing times together,” Deschênes wrote in a message on Twitter. “This isn’t good-bye as our friendships will remain intact.”
Jamie Sinclair returns to Canadian rink after years in USA
Sinclair hopes to bring more experience to the St-Georges rink and help the team qualify for more Grand Slam of Curling events.
She is setting a good example this week. Sinclair (lead) and Chelsea Carey (skip) have joined third Kate Hogan and second Taylor McDonald to form the Casey Scheidegger team at the Princess Auto Players’ Championship in Toronto. The Scheidegger rink is dissolving after this season and she has already started to focus on her family and career.
The Anchorage, Alaska-born Sinclair, 31, curled for the United States from 2014-22 with great success. She won three U.S. women’s championships and competed in two world championships, placing fourth in 2018 and sixth in 2019.
When Sinclair curled in Canada, she won the 2007 Canada Winter Games gold medal with Ontario skip Rachel Homan, was fourth at the 2012 Canadian junior championships and won the 2014 Canadian university crown.
Sinclair will replace Alana Routledge on the St-Georges team, which is completed by Emily Riley and Kelly Middaugh.
St-Georges also announced Marie-France Larouche of Saint-Romuald, PQ., a double medallist in her 10 Canadian women’s championships, will join the team, but for a specific reason.
Since Sinclair is ineligible to compete for two years in the Scotties provincial playoffs and national championships as she completes her transition back to Canadian curling after the 2023-24 season, Larouche will serve as the third for any Quebec or Canadian championship competitions.
“I think we needed to have a little bit of a change, (and) get really experienced with these two amazing players,” St-Georges said in a Twitter posting.
When Sinclair returned to Canada last year, she contacted St-Georges to talk about the possibility of joining the now three-time Quebec champion (2021-23).
“We kind of knew each other (through) spiels and whatnot,” St-Georges told curling reporter Dylan Chenier. “She’s such a joy to be around.
“When I spared with Chelsea at the Slam (WFG Masters last December), it was actually a great opportunity to get to know (Sinclair) more on and off the ice. After the announcement with Alana, we decided to go forward with (Sinclair) and we (talked) to her about our plans for next season.”
St-Georges plans to have Sinclair play the third position because of her strategic knowledge and shot-making skills.
“She really knows what it takes to perform at a high level and we want to reach that,” she added. “Our goal this year was to really bring more experience to the team … for strategy, line calls and whatnot. Just to have that support on the team, I think it’s going to be change for the better.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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