Kerri Einarson chases curling history in Tournament of Hearts with substitute lead

Krysten Karwacki is in a spotlight not of her own making at the Canadian women’s curling championship.

Kerri Einarson’s alternate, or fifth, has played every end for four-time champion Einarson at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary.

Regular lead Briane Harris was declared ineligible just hours before the team’s opening draw on Feb. 16 at WinSport Event Centre. 

Curling Canada said in a statement that day it had been “made aware” of Harris’s ineligibility and has refused further comment. 

Neither the national governing body of the sport nor Einarson had provided an explanation by the start of playoffs Friday.

While a question mark hangs over Einarson’s team in its quest for quintuple crowns, Karwacki is now a key participant in it.

“As an alternate, I’ve always been ready,” Karwacki said. “I’ve got really big shoes to fill with Briane. She’s a very talented player, so I’ve just been really focused on my shots and helping the team win.”

Einarson (7-1) was among the six playoff teams in Calgary. At the conclusion of pool play Thursday, Karwacki was tied with Ontario’s Sarah Wilkes and Northern Ontario’s Sarah Potts for the top shotmaking percentage among leads at 89 per cent.

“She’s been amazing,” Einarson said. “She’s getting those rocks in some really great spots and setting up those ends for us and that’s key. She’s been sweeping her butt off. She’s been a great teammate.”

Familiarity greased Karwacki’s integration into the team. 

The 32-year-old from Winnipeg was a Hearts alternate in four previous appearances — three with victorious Einarson from 2021 to 2023 and once with runner-up Michelle Englot in 2017. 

Einarson also retained Karwacki as her alternate in three world championships. 

Karwacki said she’d played eight ends for Einarson at the Hearts between 2021 and 2023, but none in world championships.

Alternates are most often activated because of a regular position player’s illness or injury. Pregnant players will sometimes take a breather. Karwacki spelled Harris for that reason last year in Kamloops, B.C., in a couple ends.

Karwacki’s also worked as the Einarson team’s social-media marketer since the foursome’s inception in 2019, so she knows the skip, third Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and Harris on a personal level too.

Team coach Reid Carruthers is also her brother-in-law.

Karwacki was a win away from representing Saskatchewan at this year’s Hearts in Calgary, and thus wouldn’t have been available to Einarson.

Karwacki played lead for Nancy Martin this season. Martin lost in an extra end in the provincial final to Skylar Ackerman, who went 4-4 in Calgary.

“Last rock and an extra end, so it was very, very close,” Karwacki said.

While Karwacki would have loved to become a provincial champion for the first time in her career, she believes that experience helps her handle the pressure of throwing first stones for a woman chasing history.

“Every big game that you play in is extremely helpful and there was a ton of fans in the crowd,” Karwacki said. “It was streamed on YouTube and lots of people were watching it. 

“Having that pressure is always good to experience and is always helpful.”

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