Golden Hawks take curlin silver in China
HARBIN, China - It was entirely the wrong time for the Canadian
women to drop their first game of the Games.
Canada's quest for curling gold at the 24th Winter Universiade came up short Friday as Wilfrid Laurier's Hollie Nicol rink dropped a 6-5 gold-medal final decision to China's Bingyu Wang, a silver medalist at last year's world championships.
Canada was trying to defend the world university games title won two years ago in Turin, Italy, by the University of Calgary's side led by skip Brittany Gregor, which defeated Russia in the title match.
The Canadian women had also claimed silver in 2003 in Tarvisio, Italy, the only other time curling had been part of the Universiade program.
The Canadian women's team for the Harbin Games was comprised of Nicol (Markham, Ont.), vice Danielle Inglis (Kleinburg, Ont.), second Laura Hickey (Toronto, Ont.), lead Hillary McDermott (Guelph, Ont.), and alternate Erica Butler of Georgetown, Ont.
The Wilfrid Laurier squad earned the right to represent Canada in China following its victory at the inaugural CIS curling championships in 2008.
It was – to say the least – an unfortunate way for the Canadians to cap off a tremendous week of curling. Canada defeated China 7-6 during the round robin on their way to posting a 9-0 record before sending Great Britain to the sidelines in the semi-final with a thrilling 7-5 come from behind victory.
"I'm sure there will come a time when we look back at the experience and it makes us smile," said Nicol. "But that won't be right away. We came up short at the worst possible time."
Despite beating the Chinese in the preliminary round, the Canadians still came into the final maintaining their position as heavy underdogs to the reigning Chinese national champion.
"There's no shame in losing to the Chinese team," said Canadian head coach Jennifer Ferris. "All week, we said China and Russia were the class of the field. China had a big win in their semi (11-2 over the Russians) and we expected them to be better today than they were when we faced them in the round robin – which they were.
"If you'd asked them how they expected to do, I doubt anyone would have said they'd go 10-and-1 with a silver medal around their neck. It hurts right now, but they'll wake up tomorrow and realize the won a silver instead of losing the gold."
The teams provided the fans at the Heilongjiang Ice Skating Gym with an entertaining – but not entirely technically proficient match. Early misses from both sides gave their opponents opportunities to score.
"I thought both teams let chances slip away," said Chinese head coach Dan Rafael. "You saw Canada miss a chance in the first and again in the second end, and our girls gave away points later in the game. I'm sure the fans liked it but it wasn't really all that well played by either side."
After the Chinese opened with a steal of one in the first, the Canadians had a chance to get it right back, but with Nicol already lying one, her final stone slid through the rings, as Canada relinquished the hammer for the benefit of one point.
"That miss in the second was big," said Ferris. "We had the chance to get right back with two after giving up the steal which would have restored some confidence. She just slid it through and it turns out it could have been the difference in the game. We certainly had a time to recover from it, but there's no question it was a turning point."
As damaging as the missed shot in the second end was, it was a Nicol miss in the following end that left a welt. Attempting to play another double takeout with her last, Nicol made contact with both Chinese counters but removed neither. The miss left Wang with a draw for three, which she made, much to the delight of the crowd.
"Yes, the double wick hurt us. She upped her weight and it just ran straight," said Ferris. "You take those two stones, the one in the second and the one in the third," said Ferris. "And you're probably talking about a four or five point swing."
Canada took one in the fourth end – with the Chinese blanking the fifth – giving Wang a 4-2 lead at the mid-game break.
China took one in the sixth to stretch their lead to 5-2.
In the seventh end, Wang made a tap-back to leave her last stone partially buried. Nicol answered the challenge of the Chinese skip, followed it down the exact path to score her two and trail 5-4.
In the eighth, a Canadian kicker at the back corner of the 12-foot, forced Wang to play for a single rather than the blank. Wang made an open hit on Nicol's rock in the four foot, scored one and took a 6-4 into the ninth.
China set up the ninth end well, with Wang sealing a lone Canadian counter in behind a wall of Chinese granite. Nicol was left with a draw to a thin sliver of the button for her two. The rock seemed good for weight, but rubbed out front. Canada scored one to trail 6-5 heading to the final end.
Cautious not to provide the Canadians with the opportunity to steal their way to an extra end, China kept things clean in the final end. Nicol tried to tuck her final stone around a Chinese counter in the 12-foot, but sailed too deep, giving China the win without forcing Wang to throw her final stone.
"It would have been nice to make her throw, but she's left with full eight foot for the win – which she doesn't miss," said Ferris. "Realistically, once they made the double peel earlier in the end, we were pretty much left grasping at straws."
2009 Winter Universiade website: http://en.harbin2009.org
Source: CIS Communications