CALGARY - Varying degrees of game rust were evident on the first full day of curling at the national women's championship Saturday.
The COVID-19 pandemic decimating the competitive season has the 18 teams trying to recover their peak form in a matter of days in Calgary.
Restrictions on games and practices differed between the provinces and territories this winter. Some curler arrived in Calgary rustier than others.
The last competitive game for a few was a year ago in the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask.
Getting in a local club to throw rocks wasn't allowed in some regions. Others, particularly Atlantic Canadians, were able to get on the ice more regularly where they live.
Defending champion Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., six-time champion Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg and two-time champion Rachel Homan of Ottawa skipped the only teams with shooting accuracy 80 per cent or better in their first games of the tournament.
Jones launched her pursuit of a record seventh Hearts crown with a 7-4 win over Quebec in Pool B. In their first game since Nov. 12, the Jones foursome shot 86 per cent.
"I think we still have the same expectations of ourselves, just because that's the way we're built," Jones said. "We all felt we could do some training off the ice and prepare and be ready to play."
Two-time Hearts champion Chelsea Carey skipped a new team to a 6-3 win over Nunavut's Lori Eddy.
Carey took over calling the shots for Wild Card One when Tracy Fleury opted out of the tournament.
"Not playing a game in a year, pick up a brand new team, come to the Scotties, play a 10-end game, no big deal," Carey joked.
"There were some rusty moments. Not going to lie. I've been able to throw a little bit, for about a week so I felt not too bad coming in. We had a couple of moments where we went 'oops. That probably wouldn't happen at a normal Scotties.'"
Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson battled with her draw weight in her first game since November.
Up 5-2 after five ends, she threw a draw against two Prince Edward Island counters through the rings to give up a steal of two.
""It was a struggle for me," Anderson said. "You can practise all you want, but you've got to have some competitive games."
P.E.I.'s Suzanne Birt scored two in the ninth and stole one in the 10th to beat Anderson 7-6.
Birt estimates she's played a dozen games this winter. She and her teammates also threw rocks regularly.
"We haven't played the games we're used to normally playing," Birt said. "We're just going to hope that all this practice time pays off in the end."
Up until a recent burst of COVID-19 cases in Newfoundland and Labrador, Sarah Hill and teammates were also able to train and play games against local opponents.
New Brunswick's Melissa Adams stole single points in ends eight through 10, but couldn't catch Hill in an 8-7 decision.
"We were very fortunate that our curling season up until a week or two before leaving was pretty normal for us," Hill said.
"Even just being able to get out on the ice and get your feet under you, keep sliding and keep throwing, it's a huge advantage.
"I can't imagine having not curled for months and having to come up here and not only try to figure out this ice, and the rocks and everything, but also trying remember how to slide and stay upright on the ice."
Homan downed Beth Peterson's Wild Card Three 9-4 in Ontario's first Pool A game. The Ottawa rink shot 83 per cent as a team.
"I think coming into this event everyone's got to lower their expectations a little bit and give themselves a little bit more time to learn the ice and to have a little bit more patience with our deliveries," Homan said.
"Our (technique) probably isn't perfect right now. I think it won't take long for everybody to get their feet under them again."
Carey's wild-card team and Birt topped Pool A at 2-0 on Saturday.
Shooting just 65 per cent as a team, Jones lost 8-2 to Carey at night to fall to 1-1 alongside Saskatchewan and Quebec's Laurie St-Georges.
Birt downed New Brunswick 12-4, while Anderson bounced back from the earlier loss to Birt with a 9-3 win over Nunavut.
B.C.'s Corryn Brown opened the Hearts with a 9-4 loss to St-Georges. Nunavut and New Brunswick were 0-2.
Alberta's Laura Walker topped Pool A at 2-0, while Homan, Einarson and Northern Ontario's Krysta Burns were all 1-0.
Nova Scotia's Jill Brothers and Beth Peterson's Wild Card Three were 1-1 ahead of Yukon's Laura Eby and Wild Card Two's Mackenzie Zacharias at 0-2.
An afternoon game between Kerry Galusha of Northwest Territories and Einarson was postponed to Monday morning.
A N.W.T. curler was ill Saturday with suspected food poisoning, and not COVID-19, according to Curling Canada. The sick curler nevertheless underwent a test for the virus Saturday.
"It is believed that this will not impact the team’s ability to continue in the event," the statement said.
The team wrote in a social-media post Saturday "we are all doing well and will be back on the ice tomorrow morning".
The top four teams from each pool of nine advance to the championship round, and take their records with them.
The top three in the championship pool advance to the playoffs with the top seed earning a bye to the Feb. 28 final.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2021.