Tracy Fleury in action during the ninth round-robin draw of the Tour Challenge on Nov. 8, 2018, in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Anil Mungal)

Fleury, Homan & Gushue qualify for Tour Challenge playoffs

November 8, 2018, 11:09 PM

THUNDER BAY, Ont. — Tracy Fleury is used to hearing Northern Ontario moose calls just not often as the enemy.

The Sudbury native Fleury now skips a squad one province to the west based in East St. Paul, Man., and took on the hometown heroes Team Krista McCarville during the ninth round-robin draw of the Tour Challenge.

Fleury has had several battles with McCarville in the past during provincial playdowns and was victorious 5-3 in their meeting Thursday night at the sold-out Tournament Centre.

“We have a lot of history against them,” Fleury said. “It’s usually a tight battle and they played really well. It was a great game.”

She added: “The crowd was definitely rooting for McCarville, to be expected, but it’s still nice to get to play in my home province, in Northern Ontario.”

Team Fleury, which also features third Selena Njegovan, second Liz Fyfe and lead Kristin MacCuish, continued their solid start to climb to a 3-0 record and clinch a playoff spot with one group game remaining Friday against Winnipeg’s Team Darcy Robertson.

“It feels great,” Fleury said. “Just had a better start than the last Slam where we started 0-2 and had to kind of claw our way back, so this is definitely more comfortable and we’re happy with our position right now.”

Njegovan, Fyfe and MacCuish previously played with Kerri Einarson, winning two Tour Challenge Tier 2 titles and the Boost National, and stuck together following the flurry of team changes over the off-season bringing in their Sudbury skip and appear to be meshing just fine.

“The girls are really easy to get along with, so they’ve really welcomed me to the team,” Fleury said. “It’s going well so far.”

The Tour Challenge is the third event of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season and features the largest field in the series with 60 teams split into two tiers of action. Tier 1 includes 15 of the top men’s teams and 15 of the top women’s teams from around the world. Both Tier 2 divisions are composed of the next 10 teams ranked on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit plus five teams from within the event’s region.

Fleury has been crossing the hallway over to the Tier 2 side as her former teammates Jenna Enge and Amanda Gates are competing in the women’s division while her brothers, Tanner and Jacob Horgan, are in action in the men’s division.

“It’s a lot of fun to have family here and I try to sneak over there and watch a little bit when I can,” Fleury said.

Fleury stole one to start as McCarville looked to draw but it was double trouble as her rock was light and over-curled landing above the counter.

It was a lucky break for Fleury in the second. She chipped off a guard and redirected in to rub off another stone in the four-foot circle to lie shot rock that turned into another steal as McCarville wrecked on a guard. Karma looked to be calling in the third with McCarville splitting the rings and setting up a hit and stick scenario for two, however, her shooter rolled out and she only grabbed a point to trail 2-1.

Fleury was aiming to crack a multiple score in the fourth sitting three after her first skip stone but McCarville made them all scatter to sit two of her own and force her foil to draw to the side of the button for just one and a 3-1 lead.

The struggles continued for McCarville in the fifth with her first skip stone running right through the house. Then facing two counters, her last looked light but third Kendra Lilly jumped in to help sweep and drag it to the rim of the four-foot circle for their single and claw back within one down 3-2.

Fleury made a great cross-house double with her first skip stone in six to set up a possible blank scenario, however, her last hit and stuck around for a single. McCarville grabbed another point in the seventh as the see-saw singles continued to close within one heading into the final frame. Fleury didn’t need to throw her last stone of the game in eight with shot rock locked down and McCarville clicking off of it and rolling out.

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Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan (3-0) qualified for the playoffs with authority scoring four in the sixth to defeat Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., 7-2. Einarson’s new all-skip squad (3-1) wrapped up round-robin play a day early and had already secured a place in the quarterfinals.

Winnipeg’s Team Jennifer Jones improved to a 2-1 record drawing right to the side of the button with the last shot of the game for the 6-5 victory over Team Nina Roth (2-1) of the United States.

Team Cory Christensen, also from the U.S., stole one in the extra end to edge Edmonton’s Team Chelsea Carey 8-7. Both teams are still in the mix with 1-2 records.

Defending men’s champions Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., maintained their momentum to go up 3-0 and qualify for the playoffs with a convincing 6-1 win over Team Jason Gunnlaugson of Morris, Man. Gushue, who shot 95 percent, scored a deuce in the second, forced Gunnlaugson (0-3) to a single in the third and never looked back. Team Gushue replied with a point in four and then stole one in five and two in six.

Round-robin play wraps up Friday with the top eight teams overall in each division qualifying for Saturday’s quarterfinals. The semifinals are set for Saturday evening with all finals scheduled for Sunday.

NOTES: Winners of the Tour Challenge Tier 1 earn $20,000 of the $200,000 total purse plus berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup event. … Points are also up for grabs in the Tier 1 division towards the Pinty’s Cup, which is awarded to season champions following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship in April. … Tier 2 winners earn the opportunity to move up the ranks receiving invitations to the 2019 Meridian Canadian Open in North Battleford, Sask.

UP NEXT: The Tour Challenge resumes Friday at 8:30 a.m. ET at Tournament Centre. Broadcast coverage picks up again at 11:30 a.m. ET on Sportsnet and online at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).