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Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2018
Locals seek to repeat U18 curling dominance
by Randy Pascal

The Idylwylde Golf & Country Club U18 girls team of Bella Croisier, Jamie Smith, Piper Croisier and Lauren Rajala have a tough act to follow.

As for the Curl Sudbury U18 boys team of Jacob Horgan, Max Cull, Nicholas Bissonnette and Shane Robinson, well they know what to expect.

The sophomore rendition of the Canadian Under-18 Boys and Girls Curling Championships is set to be hosted in St Andrews's (New Brunswick), from April 9th to the 14th, and the reality for both local teams is that no province other than Northern Ontario has ever won the event.

It was a clean sweep for the “Fear the Moose” contingent last spring as rinks skipped by Kira Brunton (Kate Sherry, Sydnie Stinson, Jessica Leonard) and Jacob Horgan (yes, that would be the exact same lineup that is making a return trip this year) emerged victorious in the inaugural edition of the event.

This past Sunday evening, Team Croisier overcame a 5-3 deficit after five ends of play, scoring three in the sixth and adding a steal of one in seven to secure a 7-6 win over the Sydnie Stinson led squad of Sherry, Leonard and Abby Deschene.

“We're pretty even,” noted Bella Croisier of the matchup that would see both teams earn three victories over the span of a half dozen head to head battles this year. “We were pretty confident, we went 7-0 in the round robin.” And while a bye directly to the finals is typically well received, a five way tie for the third and final playoff berth, forcing day-long tie-breakers that pushed the championship game well back into the evening, tended to offset any benefits for Croisier and company.

“We knew we needed to get comfortable with the ice because we had been sitting for almost 36 hours before we got our chance for the finals,” she said. The road to gold was not an easy one for the local girls, beaten out by Stinson at the regional level and forced to qualify through a second chance qualifier bonspiel last month.

When all was said and done, there were several good reasons for taking pride in their performance. “I think we were most pleased with the way we handled ourselves, on and off the ice,” noted vice Jamie Smith. “I think we did a good job of keeping our emotions in check and staying positive with each other.”

While the trek to nationals will be a first for all four members of Team Croisier, there is no lack of local sounding boards, including Smith's older sister Megan, a member of championship teams at both the Canada Winter Games and the Canadian University playdowns. “I think the most important advice I have been given is not to take the losses too hard and really just enjoy the moment,” said Smith.

Over on the boys side of the draw, the defending champs made it look all too easy. Horgan and his crew racked up a flawless 7-0 mark in round robin play, earning a direct path to a Sunday encounter, and proceeded to dismantle the Malcolm O'Bright rink from North Bay to the tune of an 11-3 scoreboard.

Still with the Horgan clan, older brother Tanner can now check yet another box off the curling “to do” list, having participated in his very first Tim Horton's Brier last week in Regina. The Laurentian University student and three time Canadian Junior medallist was added to the roster of the Brad Jacobs Northern Ontario rink from Sault Ste Marie, serving as alternate.

As luck would have it, some illness within the team forced Horgan into action more than he anticipated, competing in three games in their entirety, and providing a mid-game substitution in three other comfortable victories.

For as much as Horgan has accomplished in recent years, this is still the Brier we are talking about here. “It's a big difference playing in front of fans,” he said. “At the Canadian juniors, you have some fans there, but for the most part, it's in a smaller arena and a lot of it is family and friends. At the Brier, there are complete strangers. It was just amazing to be in a show that big.”

Truth be told, there were several areas in which Horgan might be considered to be a little outside of his element, including the fact he would serve as a lead for Team Jacobs, versus his traditional role as a skip. “For throwing, I felt it was pretty similar,” he explained. “As a skip, I throw a lot of draws anyways. Lead is all draws, pretty much.”

“The biggest difference was the sweeping,” Horgan continued. “They were losing one of the best, if not the best sweeper in the world (in Ryan Harnden). To fill in those shoes was difficult, if not impossible – I did my best.”

While the list of those who might not always agree with the on-ice energy of Team Jacobs over the years can be a lengthy one, Horgan noted a somewhat different perspective, when the Saultites are considered teammates. “What surprised me the most was the positivism, the resilience out there, it was really shocking,” he said.

“You see them from afar and they're a very fiery team, but when you're on the inside and you get to talk to them, and you see them in those big situations, it's very different. I was very impressed with how they handled losses, being down the score, or how they handled being up in the score – the whole mental part of the game was just very impressive to watch.”

There was little doubt that the single biggest goal for Tanner Horgan heading into this Brier was simply to learn from the entire experience. Safe to say it's yet another check-box filled. “I said to Caleb (Flaxey - coach) near the end of the week that I've thrown very few rocks here, but I know I'm a better curler coming back.”

“For one, being at the Brier and throwing as many rocks as I did, I know when I go back that won't feel nervous anymore. I've played in a TV game, at the Brier, and there's not much of a bigger stage than that.” Now it's simply a matter of getting back with his own team, and adding another accomplishment to a resume that is quickly running out of superlatives.

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