Northwest Territories skip Kerry Galusha delivers a stone during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in St. Catharines, Ont. (Anil Mungal)

NWT’s Galusha ecstatic with personal-best run at Scotties

February 24, 2017, 10:00 PM

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. — Kerry Galusha couldn’t believe in her 10th appearance as a skip in the main draw of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts she was finally battling on the left side of the leaderboard.

When the standings are posted during the TV broadcast, they’re usually split with the top teams in the hunt for playoff spots on the left and the second half of the field in tough on the right.

While Galusha ultimately missed out on qualifying for the Page games, the Northwest Territories skip finished round-robin play Friday with a career-best 5-6 record. If you add her 3-1 pre-qualifier result she heads home above .500.

“This year we just said, ‘You know what? We actually won eight games this week,’” said Galusha, who earned the Marj Mitchell Sportsmanship Award on Friday. “It’s been an awesome week. It’s been a tough week, I’m not going to lie, it’s been tough mentally but it’s been a lot of fun. We just wished we had curled a little bit better. … We have some things to work on but we’re super proud of trudging along all week.

“We feel like all we’ve done is curl, that’s it. Curl, eat and sleep and we’ve never done that before. We just played 15 games in a week and a half and that’s a lot of curling for a team from the north.”

The Yellowknife team of Galusha, third Megan Koehler, second Danielle Derry, lead Sharon Cormier and alternate Shona Barbour also had Toronto-based John Epping as their coach for the week. Epping has helped them throughout the season, mostly long distance via Skype and FaceTime, but he also put in actual face time with the crew during the Tour Challenge in November.

Epping, a three-time Grand Slam champion and skip of the No. 7 ranked men’s team in the world, made sure they weren’t distracted off the ice by banning cellphone use in the building. He also provided them with candy during their games, an idea Galusha thought was genius as it kept up their energy levels.

“I learned a lot from him this week. He’s super positive and we relied on him a lot,” Galusha said. “We really utilized him. Other teams don’t utilize their coach as much, we did and it really helped us.

“We got a little lazy not talking to him after a few ends in a couple games. We were making sure, ‘Okay, let’s go talk to him,’ because he can help us with the ice and just everything. A lot of coaches can’t. Sometimes they’re just there for more of a support role. John was a little more than that to us.”

A big hurdle for N.W.T. entering the event was getting out of the pre-qualifier round against New Brunswick, Nunavut and the Yukon for the final spot in the main draw. Galusha came out on the wrong side during the past two seasons before making it a lucky third strike this time. The pre-qualifier has been scrapped for the future with all provinces and territories — plus Northern Ontario, defending champs Team Canada and a 16th team to be determined — receiving entry spots with the tournament split into two pools.

Knowing that they didn’t have to worry about being relegated if they finished last gave them a feeling like they had nothing to lose and were playing with house money, although having Epping managing things behind the bench ensured they didn’t get too loose and remained focused on the prize.

“John actually told me coming into this he wasn’t even looking at relegation. He knew we could get through and make playoffs,” Galusha said. “That’s what he kept telling me and I was like, ‘Okay, I trust you. Okay, I believe you,’ and really we could have if we just had two more better games, even three. Even Ontario and Team Canada we played really well against them and we kept it close. We just lost a couple more games than we should have.”

Not having a coach back home has been an issue as Galusha believes they still have a lot of work to do. It was a tough season on-and-off with team dynamics, she said, as Barbour and Cormier switched roles in the lineup.

“We changed our team a little bit losing Shona, she’s here as our fifth, she took some time off from the game this year so we had Sharon come in, who was our fifth,” Galusha said. “But it was still a team dynamic difference and Megan and Sharon, daughter and mother, so it would have been nice to have had a coach. Coming here even we had a few technical issues with our slides and that’s because we don’t have a coach telling us this is what to do.

“We try to help each other but it’s really hard so you just do the best you can and just work. We practise a lot. Skyping with John is awesome because we learn so much from him in that sense but when it comes to technical stuff we do need a little bit more help throughout the season. I’m not sure how to fix that. We’ll re-evaluate for next year and see what we can do better.”

As for what else is in store for the future, Galusha isn’t entirely sure. She was contemplating stepping back a bit herself, but knowing the Northwest Territories will have a berth in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts next season is making her think twice about that.

“I’ve been talking about taking some time off here and there but it’s tough when you know N.W.T. is actually going to have a team in it next year with the pools so it might not be the right year to take off,” Galusha said. “I’m not really sure yet actually.”