Curl P.E.I. suspects the province's self-isolation rules are behind a poor turnout in this year's Scotties and Brier provincial qualifiers.
Both events are going ahead this weekend in O'Leary, with just two women's and two men's teams competing for the right to represent the Island at the national curling championships in Calgary, slated for late February and early March.
"This is the smallest provincials I've ever been a part of," said Suzanne Birt, the skip for one of the two women's teams competing, and the Island's representative at the Scotties the past two years.
"It's a little different for sure."
But Birt said she's hardly surprised.
P.E.I.'s representatives will have to enter a curling bubble in Calgary for up to two weeks, sticking to their hotel rooms and the arena. There'll be no friends, family, or other fans allowed inside the bubble.
Then upon their return to P.E.I., curlers will have to self-isolate for another 14 days.
"[Curling] is what we love to do," said Birt.
"But at the same time, it's a little disheartening thinking about your family, that you have to be away from them for a month.… It's a lot to take on, and a lot of commitment from the team and our families."
You need almost a month of time from your employment, from school, whatever it might be. — Peter Gallant
While Birt and her teammates have been able to juggle their schedules and make it work, Curl P.E.I. says that likely wasn't an option for many teams.
"I think it's strictly due to the whole situation with the bubble. There are a lot of teams that decided not to enter, just because you need almost a month of time from your employment, from school, whatever it might be," said Peter Gallant, Curl P.E.I.'s performance director.
"But I think everybody's happy that there's a couple teams that can have a championship."
Fortunate on P.E.I.
P.E.I. is one of just a few places going ahead with Scotties and Brier qualifiers.
In some provinces, given their COVID-19 situations and tougher restrictions, curling is off the ice all together.
Most provinces have nominated representatives to head to Calgary, or selected last year's winners.
"We are so fortunate here in P.E.I., and we are so thankful that we've had curling ice to practise on, and play games. And I'm very very thankful we live here," said Birt.
"The teams that are on P.E.I., they ultimately have a distinct advantage over some of the other teams, just because of the time on ice," added Gallant.
"Now, that being said, they still have to work hard to do well at a national championship. But I think the extra ice time is certainly going to benefit them."
'Eat, sleep, and curl'
In both the Scotties and Brier qualifiers this weekend, the two teams will curl in a best-of-five championship.
In Birt's case, even if her rink loses, they'll still be heading to Calgary.
Curling Canada has expanded this year's field to include a few wild-card teams. Based on their national rankings, Birt and her rink have already earned a wild-card spot.
The prospect of travelling to Alberta, where COVID-19 is much more prevalent, doesn't have her concerned.
"Me personally, I think it's going to be the safest environment possible," she said.
"We go to Calgary, we go straight to the bubble and we don't leave. We eat, sleep, and curl."
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