Skip Rachel Homan has pencilled in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts on her calendar next month for the Calgary curling bubble. If she were to win a fourth national women's title, it would make for a most interesting decision on her plans for the world championship that follows a few weeks later.
Homan, who's pregnant with her second child, will be about seven months along during the Feb. 20-28 Scotties at the Markin MacPhail Centre. The winning team will represent Canada at the March 20-28 world playdowns in Schaffhausen, Switzerland.
"What's going to happen in future events with women's worlds, it's hard to predict the future right now," Homan said. "There's no 100 per cent these days. But hopefully we'll be able to compete in the Scotties and do Ontario proud and then see where the worlds stands at that point."
It makes for yet another interesting talking point in this most unusual curling season.
Depending on Scotties results and her physical comfort level while being eight months pregnant, Homan could also choose to play in the March 18-25 Canadian mixed doubles championship. That would allow the St. Paul, Alta., resident to stay in province and avoid a long international trip.
That competition is the third of six events set for the Canada Olympic Park hub. Homan, ranked fourth in doubles with John Morris, will not play in the Grand Slams in April although her team could still be in the field.
Homan, who won a world title in 2017, recently accepted an offer to represent Ontario at the Scotties after the province cancelled its playdowns. Other confirmed Scotties entries include Team Canada's Kerri Einarson, Manitoba's Jennifer Jones and Northern Ontario's Krysta Burns.
Normally teams at a nationals or worlds would use a fifth player as a substitute if one of the four starters were unable to participate. Using a three-player lineup could also work in a short-term pinch.
The Ottawa-based Homan team has used a variety of alternates over the years including Cheryl Bernard, Stephanie LeDrew and Cheryl Kreviazuk. Homan said her rink has yet to decide on fifth plans this season.
"With COVID obviously, that brings challenges to alternates," Homan said in a recent interview. "It's a lot to ask."
If her Ontario side were to advance but the skip could not go to Switzerland, it's unclear who would throw final stones on the fourth-ranked team that includes third Emma Miskew, second Sarah Wilkes and lead Joanne Courtney.
In the event a national champion could not send the same lineup to the worlds due to injury, pregnancy or travel concerns, a federation spokesman said via email that "Curling Canada will consult with the team relative to identifying the best possible solution."
A strong showing at the world championship is particularly important for Canada this year with the top six countries locking up berths at the 2022 Beijing Games.
Given that, and coupled with the short turnaround the Scotties winners would have before leaving for Europe, has Curling Canada considered declaring representatives ahead of time?
"We've kind of always done playdowns," said Nolan Thiessen, the federation's director of broadcast, marketing, innovation and event presentation. "I know this year we looked at it. We still haven't been told that the world women's (championship) is officially happening based on what the health and safety protocols are. We shall see on that one."
Thiessen, in a recent phone interview from Calgary, added that Curling Canada is already working on plans for what will be asked of the Scotties winners.
"(We'll) work with them to try to ensure that we have everything needed and they know what to expect so that whoever wins on that Sunday night is ready to go and is going to be as prepared as possible," he said.
The 2020 women's world championship set for Prince George, B.C., last March was cancelled. Canada is one of 14 countries slated to participate in the 2021 competition at the KSS Sports Complex.
"The world women's is still scheduled to go ahead as planned," World Curling Federation media chief Chris Hamilton said via email. "However, the finer details around all of the COVID-19 safety protocols, including any required quarantine period, are still under discussion with the Swiss authorities at the moment."
Homan's team played a few friendly games earlier this season but its actual competition schedule has been very limited. She's confident her rink will come out strong when play resumes.
"We've put in so many hours and so much work leading into this that you just have confidence that you've been there and done it before," she told The Canadian Press from the Edmonton area. "You rely a little bit on the training you were able to do and the stuff we tried to do early.
"Right now it's just that mental side and as much as off-ice training as we can to (prepare). It'll be a different Scotties for sure but we're so excited to be able to represent Ontario."
Homan and husband Shawn Germain welcomed baby Ryatt in June 2019. Homan curled until she was about seven months pregnant that season.
She announced her latest pregnancy in an Instagram post last November.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2021.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press