Émilia Gagné walks around with a perma-grin these days and for good reason.
Skip of the youngest team to ever compete at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Gagné and most of her team can’t even order a drink at the HeartStop Lounge after their game.
“It’s crazy. Never in my life did I think I would be here and I am here so we are so happy, all the team,” said Gagné.
Gagné was about 13 when she became a fan of Jennifer Jones (Team Manitoba) who was heading to the 2014 Olympics to represent Canada.
“When I started playing curling and watching it on TV she was there playing so well and winning the Scotties and Olympics. I just love the way she is on the ice and her teammates. I love her, but her team also,” said the teen skip.
It was bittersweet having the Scotties so close to home in Montreal in 2014, when Jones was at the Olympics and didn’t take part.
Now she gets to walk by her curling hero daily at the Scotties.
“I haven’t seen her a lot here because we are in different pools, but when we do, like at the hotel, we wave and say ‘hi’,” said Gagné, who admitted she gets a bit fan-girl nervous around Jones. “Maybe next time we come we get to play against her.”
While Gagné and her teammates — third Mélina Perron (17), second Marie-Pier Harvey (17), lead Chloé Arnaud (19) and alternate Isabelle Thiboutot (21) — may not have all the experience that the 15 other teams have but there is no doubt they can hang in with them on the ice.
They opened the Scotties with a 9-2 win over Nunavut and then lost 6-5 in extra ends to Team Canada.
Team Canada skip Michelle Englot told Curling Canada she was impressed with the young teams’ play.
“We had them in trouble and (Gagné) made some really great bail shots, and gave me some difficult ones. They’re a really good, solid young team,” said Englot. “She just has a really good feel for the game. They throw really well.”
They then lost in another close game 5-7 to Team Ontario and conceded to B.C. 10-4. On Tuesday they kept close with Prince Edward Island and came out with an 8-6 win. On Tuesday evening the teenage team came up with another big win putting them in contention to make the Championship Pool. They took down the undefeated Newfoundland and Labrador team by a score of 9-7. With three teams now tied for the coveted fourth place position in their pool that sends them to the Championship round, it could come down to Wednesday’s game at 2 p.m. where they face a team that has already punched their ticket — Alberta (5-1).
“We knew that we are young and less experienced than many teams so we wanted to play and keep the scores as tight as possible because if we keep the scores as tight as possible the other team has the pressure and we are just happy to be here. This week we are here to get experience so when we come back we will have higher expectations,” said Gagné.
Their road to the Scotties started with a hiccup at the Quebec junior women’s championship that saw them exit in the semifinal, but that didn’t deter them. An opportunity opened up to play in the Quebec women’s provincial championship and they entered on a whim, expecting to gain valuable experience more than anything.
Instead, Gagné et al won a tiebreaker that put them in the playoffs then they defeated previous Scotties medalists Marie-France Larouche in the semi final and then knocked off three-time defending provincial champion Éve Bélisle. That game went into an extra-end with Gagné winning 7-6.
While hoping to inspire a young generation of curlers, Gagné said there isn’t a new school versus old school mentality here.
“Honestly I don’t see a difference. The young curlers can learn a lot from these teams because of all their experience and that is what we are here to do this week.”
If not for the Scotties, Gagné would be back in Quebec sitting in a classroom right now. Her friends back in her home province have been following closely.
“I am sure if I get my phone right now there would be text messages. ‘Hey, I saw you on TV,’” she said with a big smile across her face. “It’s just me. I haven’t changed. I’m just on TV. When you see it on TV it seems so big and bright. When you live it, that is true but it is just fun for us.”
Playing alongside her mentors and heroes, no matter how much Gagné pinches herself she isn’t waking up from this dream.
“Oh yeah for sure. This is everything I have dreamed of.”
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.