As the unexpectedly abrupt end to the 2019-20 curling season rocked curling fans, they were further stunned to see a slew of team lineup changes drop like bombshells.
It all began with Canada’s Rachel Homan, whose team announced they had fired perennial all-star lead Lisa Weagle and replaced her with former Team Chelsea Carey third Sarah Wilkes, who now throws second stones.
As Wilkes is Toronto-born, the revised Homan squad will continue to play out of Ontario – thanks to Curling Canada’s controversial 2019 “birthright” allowance – despite the fact that Homan, Wilkes and Joanne Courtney all live in Alberta.
Third Emma Miskew remains in Ottawa.
“While this is a very difficult decision to make on many fronts, we are restructuring our front end to continue in our relentless pursuit of excellence,” the team stated.
“I wasn’t part of the discussions and it was a decision that was taken by the team,” the shocked 34-year-old Weagle told the Canadian Press.
“Rachel was the one who called me to join the team 11 years ago so I think it’s fitting that she was the one to call me to tell me that they were going in a different direction. I’m great friends with the girls. I was a bridesmaid in Emma’s wedding.
“I think we’re going to stay friends but certainly the nature of our relationship will change now.”
Calgary’s Kevin Koe then announced he’d parted ways with Saskatchewan-born Colton Flasch. Just a year earlier the team won the Brier and world silver, but this past season they ranked just ninth on The Curling News Gold Trail and missed the playoffs at the Brier.
John Morris, who spared for Koe at a Slam back in the fall – and who used to skip Koe in the mid-2000s – was soon announced as Flasch’s replacement. Morris had recently parted ways with Olympic mixed doubles teammate Kaitlyn Lawes and declared he was re-invigorated with the idea of men’s four-player curling again. As social media tittered over who will actually end up playing third – and if it might switch ’round numerous times – one Twitter user suggested “They are going to run out of time in the fourth end of every single game they play.”
Around the same time, Carey’s front-end tandem of Dana Ferguson and Rachel Brown left, leaving Carey without a team. Coupled with the Koe roster move, this meant that just one year after winning the national championships, Canada’s top men’s and women’s squads had vaporized.
“You’re the general manager but you’re also the player. In other sports there are people making the decisions,” Carey told CBC Sports.
“It’s a set up for there to be heartbreak and betrayal. They’re your friends and then they’re saying you’re off the team.”
Ferguson and Brown then joined provincial rival Kelsey Rocque, the 2019 and ’20 Alberta finalist, who had announced the departure of her front end.
Olympic and two-time world champion skip Jennifer Jones then shook the foundations with news that Weagle had joined her Manitoba team, but without displacing anyone else on the roster. Jones now has a five-player squad and Weagle is being integrated into the lineup throughout the current pandemic-wracked season.
In the United States, defending women’s champion Tabitha Peterson has welcomed former skip Nina Roth back to the squad at third position, and Cory Christensen has signed Vicki Persinger and the Anderson twins, Sarah and Taylor. A rejigged Jamie Sinclair foursome sees Monica Walker out of retirement alongside youngsters Cora Farrell and Elizabeth Cousins.
On the U.S. men’s side, youthful Andrew Stopera has replaced Greg Persinger on Team Rich Ruohonen, while squads skipped by John Shuster and Korey Dropkin remain unchanged.
In other player lineup news, Swiss Olympian and two-time world champion Binia Feltscher has retired and now coaches St. Moritz’s Selina Witschonke, Northern Ontario’s Jacob Horgan has joined Winnipeg’s young J.T. Ryan, and Saskatchewan’s Robyn Silvernagle and Jessie Hunkin have now teamed with former teammate Dayna Demers and former rival skip Kristen Streifel.