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'Sweeping' change carries Alberta rink into Tournament of Hearts

What's the comparison? There has to be a comparison.

For more than a decade, Heather Nedohin has been good, very good in her sport, but contemporary Shannon Kleibrink has been that much better. And when it wasn't Kleibrink finishing out of reach, it was Cheryl Bernard. Together, Kleibrink and Bernard have dominated women's curling in Alberta. They've been … the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to Nedohin's Toronto Blue Jays.

But now, for the first time since 2000, Nedohin is carrying Alberta's hopes into the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Better yet, she and her rink get to compete as sentimental favourites in Red Deer, Alta., where she won a world junior championship in 1996, and where her family can drive down from Sherwood Park to watch the Nedohin foursome perform.

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That means husband David, a member of the Brier-winning Randy Ferbey rink, and the two daughters, fresh from their roles in a kids' theatre production of Cinderella, will get to watch Nedohin attempt a fairy-tale ending of her own.

"I've gotten questions, 'Where have you been for 12 years?' " the 36-year-old skip said on the eve of Saturday's opening draw. "I've continued to play all along. Once you're a competitor, you just love the game. And I do."

Nedohin's love of curling is deep-rooted. She spent her childhood at the curling club in Fort St. John, B.C. Her mother, June Godberson, was a high-end player who lost the 1985 B.C. provincials to Linda Moore before Moore went on to win the Tournament of Hearts and the world championship.

As for Nedohin, she made a quick ascension from world junior winner to 1998 Canadian champ playing third for Edmonton's Cathy King (then Borst).

Altogether, Nedohin went to the Tournament of Hearts four years in a row, the last one as a skip. It was beginning to feel like a habit. Then, things changed. Other rinks took over. In last year's provincial final, Nedohin absorbed another loss to Kleibrink.

Something had to change.

"When you don't make the playoffs at a provincial, when you're not coming close, that's the deflation. That's when you wonder, 'What am I doing this for?' " Nedohin said. "But when I come runner-up I think, 'We're so close. How do we fine-time those dynamics?' "

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Nedohin is convinced her bounce-back showing can be traced to a subtle shift. She figured she and her teammates needed to work on endurance and sweeping in an effort to make the tough shots in the late ends. So they spent more time in the gym and they made a subtle change, having sweepers Laine Peters and Jessica Mair switch sides so they could be better positioned to do their job.

"There was a recent study about how male sweepers are sweeping and comparing that to what women are doing," Nedohin explained. "You see women's events and we're not having anywhere near the same results on the rocks. … Yes, we're not as big and strong as the men, but what can we do with positioning [to get the rocks to curl more] In July, we focused on our sweeping. There was a lot of fine-tuning to our game."

Nedohin struggled early in the season with the "sweeping" changes and experimented with different broom heads for optimum results. The team wasn't highly rated on the Canadian Team Ranking System, which uses points from various events to determine which rink is hot and which is stone cold. But when it counted, Nedohin outduelled Jessie Kaufman 8-5 in last month's provincial final and put the 2012 Scotties field on notice.

"We've played them numerous times. They're one of the best teams in Canada," Manitoba skip Jennifer Jones said of the Nedohin rink. "Every year it's tough. You have to win your province and then you have to play your best [in the Scotties] They've always been right there."

Now they're right there in the thick of it, pushing hard to the last rock. After being in the shadows for 12 years, Nedohin is suitably inspired for a return to the national stage, and a starring role, too.

"I went to my daughters' dress rehearsal [for Cinderella] It was great to get to their show before I got to my show."

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About the Author
Sports writer

Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. He joined the Globe and Mail in 1997 with an extensive sports background having covered Stanley Cup finals, the Grey Cup, Summer and Winter Olympics, the 1980 Miracle on Ice, the 1989 Super Bowl riot and the 1989 earthquake World Series. More

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