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Alternates get busy as flu bug wreaks havoc

MONTREAL -- Handshakes turned to obsessive handwashing Tuesday, as an apparent intestinal virus ripped through the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Team Manitoba was still healthy -- knock on wood, then wash your hands -- but other teams, well, not so much.

A partial casualty list: Ontario's second was out on Tuesday morning, and Team Canada's fifth. Worst hit was Team Saskatchewan: Skip Stefanie Lawton was forced to play Quebec's Allison Ross with just a single sweeper as second Sherri Singler and veteran third Sherry Anderson were both too sick to play. So alternate Dailene Sivertson came in, and lead Marliese Kasner moved up to vice, and they split the extra stones, each making 27 shots in nine ends.

Lawton simplified the game and fretted over throwing enough weight to compensate for the single sweeper. The team still rolled out a confident 8-4 win and Lawton was beaming when she met the media after the game -- though she politely asked reporters to keep their distance, just in case.

"The girls curled great out there, especially in positions that they're not used to," the skip said. "I was really, really happy with their performance... The girls jumped right in."

British Columbia's Kesa Van Osch got sick minutes before her morning game, so alternate Patti Knezevic came in at skip and called a 7-3 win over Ontario's Allison Flaxey. It was a heck of a way for Knezevic, a veteran skip out of Prince George, to make her Scotties debut. She signed on with the Van Osch rink for the nationals, after knowing them as hotshot young opponents.

"That's what I came here prepared to do," Knezevic said. "It was great, a really enjoyable game. The girls played really well, I'm really proud of them."

More: A TSN reporter was forced to do audio only after a camera operator had to scurry off sick. Organizers hastily distributed bottles of hand sanitizer across the media bench and on the ice, curlers finished their games with elbow-taps instead of handshakes. Well, except for Manitoba skip Chelsea Carey, who forgot, and instead proferred her hand to Newfoundland's Heather Strong after the morning draw.

"When I came off, instead of giving me a high-five, (fifth) Breanne (Meakin) squirted me with hand sanitizer," Carey said with a laugh.

Of course, she knows the Manitobans aren't immune: after second Kristen Foster's husband and father came down with the illness, Carey half-jokingly (or was it even half?) declared the team under quarantine.

She once had to play a provincial bonspiel with the flu -- "I was throwing up in a bucket between shots," she recalled -- and she'd rather avoid that here in Montreal, under the lens of TSN.

On the plus side, the Manitobans have a trusted alternate in Meakin, who was also with them at the Olympic trials.

"If you just picked a fifth at the end of provincials, it could disrupt things," Carey said. "We spent a lot of time with Breanne... we brought her to practices, we put her in different positions. We feel really good about it."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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