Sherwood coaching clash in final of the Scotties

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There was a somewhat surprising Sherwood showdown at the Scotties on Sunday.

The final of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts Canadian Women’s Curling Championships featured a pair of rookie coaches going head-to-head — both of them Sherwood Park residents.

Defending champion Kerri Einarson opted to bring in Sherwood Park Curling Club business manager Heather Nedohin as her new coach last year. Even though she is new to coaching at the level, Nedohin is no stranger to the Scotties, having competed in the event three times whilst winning gold twice and adding a silver. She also won two bronzes for Canada at the Worlds, after previously emerging as the World champion at the junior level.

Meanwhile, longtime Park resident Randy Ferbey was more of a last-minute addition brought into the Calgary bubble the event was held in to guide two-time Scotties champ Rachel Homan’s rink, replacing his own former teammate Marcel Rocque in the role.

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“Marcel has been coaching them for a few years and he could not get the time off from school because of the COVID quarantine,” Ferbey said. “He just couldn’t afford the time off. So she reached out to me to see if I could help them out, both a couple weeks before and during the event.”

Ferbey is a six-time Canadian and four-time World champion in his own right as a hall-of-fame curler, taking four of those Briers with the legendary Ferbey Four Sherwood sweepers, a team which included Heather’s husband David Nedohin as the third throwing skip stones. So the two new coaches were extremely familiar with each other.

Both were bemused to find themselves at the opposite sides of the sheet in Sunday’s Scotties final as the Einarson and Homan rinks faced each other in the final for the second year in a row.

“Ironically, her room was right next to mine in the hotel,” Ferbey said. “I would open the door and go ‘Oh my God, I can’t ever seem to get away from Nedohins.’ But we couldn’t really talk that much. The coaches were on the opposite ends of the rink and after each game then you are back in your room.”

“I have been cheering for Randy for what seems like my life,” Nedohin said. “Going into the final I told him that our friendship was on hold for the next three hours. He is a legend and to have him there strategically with a team like Homan’s, that was a strong dynamic for our team to compete against. Having two equal teams with the same records play each other in the final, it was a one-two punch. Having to go head-to-head with Randy as coaches… it is awkward to cheer against your neighbor, to say the least.”

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It ended up being more awkward for Ferbey, as the Nedohin-coached Einarson squad out of Manitoba managed a 9-7 win over Homan.

“They are very dynamic, elite athletes who have very determined goals and tasks that they want to accomplish,” Nedohin said. “So stepping into coach then, it was very rewarding to see how they responded to the different atmosphere. They responded very well to wearing the maple leaf in that sort of environment and were so focused on the task at hand, For my first opportunity to see them in that sort of environment, that was very exciting because we checked off a lot of boxes for what we hoped to obtain.

“It was an honour,” Nedohin added about being part of a championship team again, “I had the best seat in the house. The shot-making that these ladies were making in the final was exceptional. It was hard to contain myself with excitement and not clap or ring cowbells or give high-fives. It was so exciting to see the girls check off exactly what they went there to do. They were very determined to repeat as champions, which is very hard to do in the first place and there were even more teams this year. What they accomplished was outstanding.”

A masked Randy Ferbey with the Rachel Homan team. Twitter photo
A masked Randy Ferbey with the Rachel Homan team. Twitter photo

Ferbey was also suitably impressed with his squad.

“They are fantastic curlers who think the sport 24/7,” he said. “Rachel was eight months pregnant and it was phenomenal that she led the group in shooting averages for the week. I can’t say enough about her, she is a phenomenal curler and, quite frankly, is the best curler in the world at this time — there are no ifs, ands, or buts. It is a tremendous group of curlers. They are very professional and are taking it to the next level.”

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As for being in the bubble in Calgary for the first of four events being staged at the WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre with the Brier starting this weekend, Ferbey said it certainly wasn’t the blast that major curling events have come to be known to be a part of.

“It was different,” Ferbey said. “I didn’t mind doing the actual coaching, but being in the bubble was difficult, to be honest. You were stuck in your room and couldn’t go out at night. You are basically with the team at certain times and that was it. You couldn’t even go for a beer downstairs for the most part. It wasn’t a ton of fun, no. I’m a social guy who likes meeting people and talking to people and you couldn’t do that as much as you wanted to do. I do applaud the Canadian Curling Association for pulling this off, though. So much went on behind the scenes to get this thing done. At least it was an opportunity to leave the house again and be around the sport again, But it was strenuous to be a part of with tests four or five times a week and constant temperature checks and things. They did a great job and deserve full kudos for getting this done and hopefully, it continues to go well for the rest of the upcoming events in Calgary.”

“It was fantastic,” Nedohin said of her own bubble experience. “Curling Canada did an exceptional job putting on an elite event that was safe for all of the athletes and the crew required to pull off such an event.

“We definitely missed the atmosphere of the crowds and the ability to have the celebration of curling and the socialization amongst the fans that you would have at the patch, though. But, just like in the past, you get into a routine where you eat, you sleep, you compete and you repeat. There really isn’t much more than going back and forth from the hotel to the venue to begin with, but the opportunities to go out to a restaurant and relocate and change up the atmosphere and enjoy the host community, obviously that wasn’t there.”

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Heather Nedohin is hoping for a long relationship with skip Kerri Einarson and her Manitoba team. Photo supplied
Heather Nedohin is hoping for a long relationship with skip Kerri Einarson and her Manitoba team. Photo supplied

In an effort to keep the number of people involved at a bare minimum, Nedohin was tasked with presenting her team with the gold medals and championship trophy.

“We really missed the crowds and the energy and the enthusiasm that we would have seen for the medal presentations with the traditions that come with it,” she said. “Those moments were hard to generate this year, but it gave me the honour of being able to present to my own team. We made the best we could under the circumstances.”

Nedohin hopeful her team can still play in a Worlds

Nedohin plans on sticking with the coaching thing and with the now two-time defending champion Einarson squad.

“I sure hope so,” she said. “We were able to establish a good relationship and I feel I was able to give them some leadership and some direction. We definitely gelled extremely well. I’m really excited to see where this team can go.”

Unfortunately, for the second year in a row, that isn’t directly to a world championships, as the pandemic cancelled last year’s global sweep-off and this year’s event in Switzerland that was originally slated for later this month was also scrapped. However, there is still some hope on the horizon.

“There are some things in the works,” Nedohin said. “There is still a men’s Worlds taking place in Calgary this year, and the World Curling Federation wants to provide the same opportunity somehow for the women, whether it is in the spring or even as late as the fall. We are staying tuned to possibilities right now. At least we know people are working on this.”

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For Ferbey, coaching Homan was a one-off, but he could see himself returning in the role with another team sometime down the line.

“I think I would consider it with the right team and the right opportunity,” he said. “But it is almost like I would have to interview the team instead of them interviewing me. I don’t think I could do much with an established team that is set in its ways. But an up-and-coming team? Potentially I would be interested, yes.”

Local curling fans will continue to have some skin in the game at the Brier, as Sherwood skip Brendan Bottcher is competing in his fifth straight men’s Canadian championships, a run which includes them making it all the way to the final the last three outings only to lose out in the glory game.

sjones@postmedia.com

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