Mike Babcock phone call boosts resurgent Homan team

Canadian rink gets second straight win after Leafs coach reaches out

By Devin Heroux, CBC Sports

Should Rachel Homan and her Canadian women's curling team go on a magical run to gold at the Olympics after starting 0-3, their incredible comeback against Switzerland on Sunday will be remembered as a key moment in their turnaround.

In a tense, back-and-forth battle that came down to the 10th and final end, Homan finally delivered the knockout shot — and benefitted from a big miss by the Swiss skip.

On two separate occasions in the game, Canada found itself down multiple points. Homan and company never strayed from their game plan, though, taking their chances when they had to but also staying patient.

Then, when opportunity knocked, they pounced.

With Switzerland up 8-6 in the ninth end, the rocks and stars aligned for Homan. Third Emma Miskew made two brilliant shots, one of them a perfect freeze, to set up the end for her skip. 

After Swiss skip Silvana Tirinzoni hit and rolled out of the rings with her last rock, Homan made a hit-and-stick to score three and go up 9-8 without hammer in the final end. 

It all came down to the final shot in the 10th. Homan had a rock fully buried on the four-foot. Tirinzoni had to grab a piece of the button for the win. 

Her rock sailed well past its target, sealing the comeback win for Canada.

"Even though we gave up some big ends we didn't panic and stuck with it," Homan said. "Eventually we got a three and it made the difference. The team played great and I'm really proud of them."

The win was massive for Canada, which is now 2-3 and still chasing the leaders. The top four teams make the playoffs, and Canada still controls its own destiny with games against Japan, China, Olympic Athletes from Russia and Great Britain remaining.

"We never stopped believing in each other. We know there are tough games out here. They're all going to be grinds and we'll just keep taking it one game at a time," said lead Lisa Weagle.

Homan said a dramatic, comeback win like this can fuel them even more. 

"We're fighting for every last inch here. We're going to try and grind this out and take it one shot at a time."

Coach calling

Shortly after Canada's decisive 11-3 victory over the United States on Saturday — its first win of the tournament — the team received an unexpected phone call.

Just hours after his own team's 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock dialled Homan's team.

"We were just finishing up our team debrief meeting around midnight, and then Cheryl [Bernard, the team's alternate] came into the room with a phone call for Rachel, and it was Mike Babcock," team second Joanne Courtney wrote in a blog for Curling Canada.

Babcock has a penchant for golden moments at the Olympics. He led Canada's men's hockey team to back-to-back Olympic titles as the head coach in 2010 and 2014.

It was a brief conversation, but he wanted to let the team know he had seen parts of their win against the Americans and to stay focused.

"We have so much respect for him as a coach, and he's such a great guy, and for him to be watching and thinking of us, it was really neat to hear his words and hear that he's pulling for us," Courtney wrote. 

"He just reminded us to keep our heads down, working as hard as we can to get the results we want. It really helped motivate us for our game today against Switzerland."

Wrong side of the inch

When things just aren't clicking on the ice, curlers like to say they're "on the wrong side of the inch."

Throughout the first three games at the Olympics in South Korea, Rachel Homan and her team out of Ottawa were on the wrong side of the inch. A couple of key misses here and there had the team at 0-3, but they could have easily been 2-1 or even 3-0.

After a second extra-end loss at the Olympics (against Sweden and then Denmark) the team called a players-only meeting to talk about what needed to change. Whatever they said seems to be working.

Unlike in their three loses, Canada was able to overcome a few key misses and find a way to win against Switzerland. 

"We were just off on a few shots today. It's how the other games went but we stuck with it and tried to be positive with each other and just make the next one," said Miskew.

Perhaps the best example of resilience in the game was realized through Courtney. Admittedly, it wasn't her best game. She shot 58 per cent and struggled. But when the team needed it most, in the ninth and 10th ends, she found a way to battle back and didn't miss.

"It was nice to be able to finish and make my last four shots, so I can carry that into the next game," Courtney said, adding that she needs to stop trying to be so perfect on her placement of stones and let her sweepers make the shot. 

"For me, especially being a front-end player, it's about knowing how to miss a shot."

Canada is back in the thick of the playoff race now, but it doesn't get any easier. They next play Japan (4-1) and China (3-3) in two massive games. 

But they're all massive games now.