VIRDEN — The best hope for any player who grew up in Westman to reach the playoffs at this year’s provincial Scotties Tournament of Hearts lies in the hands of Michelle Kruk.
The 26-year-old lead for Winnipeg’s Darcy Robertson is in her third provincial women’s curling championship and was in a good position to make the playoffs with a 4-1 record heading into last night’s late draw against Chelsea Carey.
Carey, the event’s top seed, was also 4-1 and tied for the second and final playoff spot in the Black Group with Robertson, despite not playing well through the first three days of the event.
It’s the third straight trip to the provincial Scotties for Kruk, a Souris native, and it would mean a lot if her team can finally break through at Tundra Oil and Gas Place.
"It would be great," Kruk said. "So far this team hasn’t made the playoffs. Darcy has many times and won this a few times, so for her it’s not a big achievement. For the rest of us that haven’t quite been there yet, it would be a great thing to happen this week."
Robertson is in her 19th provincial Scotties and has been on three championship teams, once as a skip and twice as a third.
Kruk brings with her an impressive resume. While living in Souris, Kruk appeared in four junior provincials as the second on Kaileigh Strath’s squad. They had winning records three times, made the playoffs twice and reached the final in 2005, in which they lost 7-5 to LaSalle’s Cal Neufeld.
Despite spending nine seasons together, the team split up after the players graduated from high school and Kruk went to Winnipeg to attend the University of Manitoba.
Kruk fell out of competitive curling for a while, but played recreationally until Neufeld, her friend, asked Kruk to join Robertson’s team as the lead in 2012.
Neufeld has since left the squad, but Kruk remains at lead, a position she’s enjoying.
"Front end is good both ways," she said. "I like sweeping, so lead or second is good with me and everyone has their place on this team and everyone fits well where they are, so lead’s my spot."
While she’s enjoying being with Robertson, joining the team has had a big effect on Kruk’s lifestyle.
The team was busy competing in World Curling Tour bonspiels every second week from October to December, as well as playing in berth bonspiels in Manitoba.
The squad sits 28th on the WCT money list with $8,450 in winnings.
Kruk is loving her busy life and finds the team is coming together. Although Kruk’s team isn’t viewed as a hometown squad, she has a lot of people supporting her as she tries to reach the Scotties playoffs for the first time in her career.
"It’s nice," she said. "My family is all here watching and there are some people from my hometown around the curling rink when I used to play there, so it’s great. Not quite the hometown favourite here, there’s still some Westman teams, but it’s nice to have my family around."
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A few people from Westman are working at the Scotties this week in addition to all the volunteers. Jocelyn Beever of Rivers worked as an umpire on Wednesday and James Treloar of Rivers is apprenticing on Eric Montford’s ice crew. Montford’s daughter, Michelle, is skipping a team in the event.