Canada's alternate, Birchard, debuts at Worlds with curling idol

  • Shannon Birchard and Jennifer Jones at Ford World Women's Curling Championship 2018 © WCF / Jeffrey Au

If you were to ask Canadian Shannon Birchard two months ago where she would be during the Ford World Women's Curling Championhip 2018, she wouldn't have said playing with Team Canada on home soil.

But, once Canadian third Kaitlyn Lawes won the Canadian Mixed Doubles Olympic Trials, skip Jennifer Jones needed a replacement - fast. Jones looked no further than fellow Manitoban curler - 23-year-old Birchard.

"I had hopes that maybe I was in the list of names that they were choosing from. I didn't know if someone like myself, with less experience, was someone that they'd be looking for, so it was definitely surprising when she called me," Birchard said.

Birchard, a two-time Canadian Junior silver medallist, has looked to Jones as a curling great growing up in the same province. Getting the call to play for the 2014 Olympic champion could be intimidating, but Birchard said the foursome made her feel part of the team from the beginning.

"The strangest thing was I expected it to be so different than what I'd been used to. But they made it so easy for me to fit in with them and that was the most surprising thing," Birchard continued.

Things quickly fell into place after that, with Birchard having 24 hours to get herself situated, before she was off to the Grand Slam with the team.

"I think getting those games in made the difference at the Scotties," she said.

Even with nerves, Birchard stepped up to the plate at the Scotties, ending the event with not only a Canadian title, but as second team all-star with a stellar 86 percent.

"They told me to feel comfortable, share my opinion, and it worked out really well. The first thing Jen told me personally was, "I want to know what you have to say," and that was probably the one thing that made me feel most comfortable," said Birchard.

To hear those words from such a respected player really set the tone for the 23-year-old.

"Obviously she's someone that's been around for a long time. She's been at the top of the game for ten years so for her to want my opinion on things was pretty special," she said.

Even though Lawes is back in positon at the World Curling Championship, Birchard didn't have too long to get comfortable on the bench as the team's alternate. In Canada's opening game - on Saturday 17 March - the foursome were leading comfortably over Czech Republic at the fifth end break and called Birchard in for the second half. Although it wasn't the start she'd dreamed of, after falling on her first shot, she was able to chuckle about the experience.

"I was not expected to come in this first game! So that was a little bit of a surprise, but it was fun, it was great. Obviously, I fell on the first rock, I don't fall all year and then I fall on the first rock at the worlds - so that's fun," she said.

Next season, Birchard will join a new line-up skipped by 2018 Scotties silver-medallist Kerri Einarson, third Val Sweeting and lead Breanne Knapp.

"It will be all new for me - I'll be playing second, something I've never done before. But honestly, playing third for Jennifer opened me up to playing different positons," Birchard said.

Looking to the future, Birchard hopes to one day represent Canada again, but for now she's happy soaking up every moment.

"I've never had this feeling playing as Team Canada and it's wonderful. I never want to take this jacket off."

To engage with the World Curling Federation on social media in the build to the Ford World Women's Curling Championship 2018 follow it on Twitter, Instagram (@worldcurling) and Facebook (/WorldCurlingFederation) and use the hashtags when posting: #WWCC2018 #curling