Montreal, QC – With the flu bug making its way through the field of the 2014 Scotties Tournament of Hearts here in Montreal, the importance of the often forgotten fifth player has been highlighted. Several players have missed games and multiple teams (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Yukon) have been forced to play games with only three players.
The team most disrupted by the flu was British Columbia, which played its two games on Tuesday without skip Kesa Van Osch, the second of which was played with only three players as lead Carley Sandwith had to leave the team’s night game against Yukon.
Stepping in to skip was fifth Patti Knezevic, who was added to the team for just such a situation. “They were looking for a player that could play any position and could step in and through skip stones,” she said.
Knezevic, who lives in Prince George, had not played with the team from the Victoria Curling Club prior to the event, which meant a bit of a learning curve. “I studied a few of their games and really worked on making sure I know what their game plan is so that if I have to step in that they’re comfortable and I’m comfortable calling what they’re comfortable playing.”
For Van Osch, who is making her Scotties debut, the decision not to play was particularly difficult. “It was really hard,” she said, before adding that “there was really no use of me playing…I wouldn’t have been any use to them.”
In addition to being pressed into action because of illness, the rules require fifths to play at least one end in two different games to be eligible for hardware at the end of the week. As a result, teams are left with a decision as to when to make a substitution.
“It’s a team decision” said New Brunswick fifth Jane Boyle, “so they look at it and they say ‘is it time to bring in the fifth’ based on the score sometimes or just to give a break to a player.”
Alberta fifth Rennee Sonnenberg, who skipped her own team at the Olympic Curling Trials in December, had no plans of playing this week, but the team wanted to get in her into a couple of games: “The girls found a way to get me in when it was non-threatening to the game, which was perfect.”
Coming in can be difficult after having sat on the bench for a couple of hours following warm-ups. “Physically it can be a little more challenging to make sure you’re ready to go into the game” Boyle said, “so when you’re asked you have to get yourself warmed up pretty quickly and get out there.”
Perhaps the fifth’s biggest contribution to the team, however, comes before the game. Fifths, along with coaches, are often tasked with keeping track of the ice and stones between games. For example, while the Alberta team had the night off on Tuesday, Sonnenberg was at the arena watching games to prepare for Wednesday’s games.
“I chart rocks and I test rocks in the evening to make sure the sets the girls are throwing are paired,” Sonnenberg said. In addition, during the team’s pre-game practice the fifth often uses a stopwatch to time stones in order to gauge the speed of the stones. “[My job is to] make sure we get some good split times during the practices and also just chart where the different draw weights are through the game,” said Boyle.
This leads to a lot of extra hours at the rink, but the fifths understand that it’s part of the position. “It’s a really long day, but it’s my job,” Sonnenberg noted. “That’s my role to be [the] best support as I can to them and help them.”