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Monday, Oct. 22, 2018
Beating the heat with the brooms and the stones
by Randy Pascal

With temperatures finally nearing high twenties on a consistent basis this past week, there were only two places to be in Sudbury: 1) near the water or a pool, or 2) inside the Gerry McCrory Sports Complex.

The one hundred or so participants at the annual Amethyst Curling Camp enjoyed the latter, out on the ice pad that had been transformed into a curling rink - one with four separate sheets of ice.

A runner-up at the 2017 Canadian Junior Curling Championships in Victoria, Ontario skip Matt Hall is making his first "official" curling visit to the Nickel City this week, serving as a coaching assistant.

Still, he is hardly a stranger to the parts, dating local curler and CIS champion Megan Smith for the past few years. Turns out there were at least a couple of good reasons to jump aboard with the 2017 Amethyst experience.

"I did five years as a camper with the Trillium Camp, the sister camp in southern Ontario," said Hall. "And I was an assistant there last year. It was an unbelievable experience. In some ways, you learn even more as an assistant than you do as a camper. I really feel that it's important for those who are at our level to give back to the game."

While Hall acknowledged that the teachings are somewhat unique, depending on the needs of each specific young curler, there was a common starting point in terms of the message he hoped to share. "Setting out good fundamentals of the game, the balance when you're sliding out of the hack, the line of delivery, really laying out those fundamentals, especially with the younger groups."

Hall and his rink might be most well known in these parts for their incredible rivalry with the Tanner Horgan foursome, a matchup that has produced a number of memorable encounters, including a 7-6 extra end win in the national semi-finals for Team Hall this past January.

"We're both extremely talented teams, and both very close, and I think our records against each other shows that," said Hall. "We both have very intense teams out there, and sometimes, to a fault. Keeping that intensity in check and really worrying about your own game is one of the keys."

Fourteen year-old Sudbury native Patrik Labrosse has not quite reached that emotional pitch in his curling career, a sport he first took up some four to five years ago. "My friend (Samuel Branconnier) was curling a year before me, and he got to bring a friend to curling," said Labrosse.

"I really liked it, and now I'm on his team." Returning to the Amethyst Camp for a second straight year, Labrosse had at least one key part of his game that he wanted to focus on this week.

"It was mostly my delivery," he said. "When I came out of the hack, I was never on the line and I wanted to know why. I came here and now I know about how to work on it. My rock is always on the side when I come out, I pull it back too much."

With coaches of all ages on hand, it was interesting to hear Labrosse credit Matt Hall with providing some assistance in one other important area, especially considering Hall has consistently thrown last stones with his team.

"He's helped me a lot with the sweeping," said Labrosse. "It's the way that the angle has to be on the broom, where to place your hands to apply the most pressure on the ice." With all of the nuggets of knowledge to be garnered, small wonder curlers return several years in a row, often from a distance.

The 2017 Camp marks the third one now for Scotland native Freddie Wilson. Not that his trek to Sudbury was quite that long. Blessed with Canadian parents, Wilson and family spend their summers vacationing at a cottage in Georgian Bay.

Still, he finds time to commit one of his seven weeks in Canada to improving his curling skills at the Countryside Complex. "I'm in an older group this year, so the skills are a lot more advanced, a lot more useful," said Wilson.

"My hits need to be improved a lot, the accuracy. The release is tricky for me." With some of the best curlers in the world born and bred in Scotland, one might expect the Scottish youth involved in the sport to enjoy a parallel experience to the thousands who participate in Canada.

Definitely not so. "Not that many kids curl in Scotland," explained Wilson. "There's one national competition, and that's where everyone goes. There's so many young people that curl here. That's great."

Even the converted venue that was being used in Sudbury served as an upgrade for this overseas import. "The ice here is great, it's the perfect weight for draws - well, I think so anyways," said Wilson. "It's completely different than Scotland. My rink back home is usually a hockey rink, so it's really slow. I'm always throwing up weight."

The weekend will bring to a close the 2017 Amethyst Camp, though one can rest assured that many of those who attended are already setting the wheels in motion to return in 2018.

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