GRANDE PRAIRIE, ALTA. — You hold the iPhone to your forehead, the screen facing out to the other players, and they provide you clues to guess the word on the screen. It is a simple game, developed by U.S. talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, played by celebrities and, this week, a group of Canadian curlers.
Players from Newfoundland and Labrador have been circling behind their bench before stepping on the ice at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. They tried acting out the term “wrecking ball” when it flashed across the screen at one point, and they recoiled at the clue one player gave to help a teammate identify the word “cougar.”
“She said, ‘40-year-old woman at a bar,’” said Erin Porter, the 26-year-old third. “So we’ve been talking about that for a few days.”
Several teams from across Canada packed rituals and superstitions for their trip to the national women’s curling championship. One has an elaborate handshake, another has a board-game addiction, and others have their own ticks and touches.
Some are out of habit. Some are for nerves, as lawyers, teachers and engineers step out of their normal careers for a few days under the spotlight of a national competition.
“Our energies were a little bit nervous to start,” Porter said of the game, called Heads-Up! “We brought it here just to boost our energy and make us laugh before a game.”
Becky Atkinson, the third for New Brunswick, said her team’s pre-game ritual is meant to shake out the mental cobwebs that can set in after a long layoff between draws. Some teams might go for a walk, she said, and others might throw a ball around.
Her team plays a board game initially marketed to children.
It started during the provincial championship, when they started playing a game they found in the lobby of their hotel. The game, called Frustration, became a staple, and the night before their flight to Grande Prairie, Atkinson scoured the toy stores in Saint John, N.B., for a copy of the game. She could not find it, settling instead on a very similar board game, called Trouble. The object is to get all four pieces around the track, moving those pieces by jolting a die encased in a bubble in the middle of the board. If you land on an opponent’s piece, they are exiled back to the starting line — a place New Brunswick players have taken to calling “jail.”
“Because we’re so competitive,” Atkinson said, “we try harder to kill each other and send each other back to jail than we do to get our tokens around the board.”
Who is the best player on the team?
“I don’t really know if anyone’s the best,” she said. “We all just try to kill each other.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Atkinson, a partner in a law firm in Saint John, said she had never won.
Pierre Charette, coach of the Quebec rink, is a veteran of the Canadian men’s curling championship. He said it would not be uncommon for his rink, if things were going well, to follow the same route to the arena from the hotel every day. He won a competition with a Quebec Nordiques shirt hidden under his uniform, and ascribed it good luck.
“I actually brought it here,” he said. “We played a terrible game. So I ditched it.”
Krista McCarville, the Northern Ontario skip, said her rink does not maintain any specific superstitions or rituals, but said it does try to maintain a certain mood off the ice. They are a “sarcastic team,” she said, a “silly team.”
“We pick on each other a lot,” she said. “One person does something wrong, they get picked on until someone else does something wrong.”
There is pressure in playing at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, with the national television exposure and the chance to advance to the world championship next month in Swift Current, Sask. Staying loose can be important.
“You can’t be serious the whole time,” McCarville said. “Honestly, we’re at the Scotties. We want to have fun, we want to remember these times as being fun.”