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Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2018
Players Championship a great warm-up for Nationals
by Randy Pascal

The timing of the U18 Player's Championship, the wrap-up event to the Junior Slam Series season, could not be better for a pair of local rinks.

Both Team Croisier (Bella Croisier, Jamie Smith, Lauren Rajala, Piper Croisier) and Team Horgan (Jake Horgan, Max Cull, Nicholas Bissonnette, Shane Robinson) have already qualified to represent Northern Ontario at the second edition of the U18 Canadian Curling Championships in St Andrew's (New Brunswick) from April 9th to the 14th.

The Player's event should provide the ideal warm-up.

“Getting that ice time just before nationals is really going to help,” noted Piper Croisier, a 14 year old grade nine student at Marymount Academy. “We want to use it as some great practice,” Robinson agreed. “We are probably going to be playing some high caliber teams. It's definitely going to be some good competition, it will help get us ready.”

Both teams enter the event with vastly different perspectives, shaped somewhat by the fact that Northern Ontario entries swept both the boys and the girls championships when the U18 nationals were launched for the very first time last April.

“We've been told by a couple of different people to just enjoy the moment, don't get caught up in the little things,” said Croisier. “Go meet as many new people as possible.” Such is the advantage of knowing that the full team can return for U18 playdowns a year from now, with three quarters of the rink still eligible the year after that.

“I would like to get some good experience on arena ice, that will be a bigger factor as we get older,” she added. Still, it would be unwise to suggest that the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club reps are approaching this as a “we are just happy to be there” type of bonspiel. “Usually, one of our goals is to have fun, but not at the expense of our play,” stated Croisier.

That should not be an issue for the lads who carry the hopes of the Curl Sudbury fraternity, heading back to Atlantic Canada as defending champs. “I'm definitely not as nervous,” said Robinson. “I'm prepared for what I am stepping into. I still remember our first game last year, I think we got destroyed something like 10-0 and shook after four ends – it was a really rough start.”

This version of Team Horgan (as opposed to the U21 edition of Tanner Horgan, Jake Horgan, Nicholas Bissonnette and Maxime Blais that have medalled in each of the past three Canadian Junior Championships) have made a concerted effort, this year, to build some chemistry within the foursome, despite the crazy schedules that they all carry on an individual basis.

“We had never curled together before last year completely as a team,” acknowledged Robinson. “We all have had a little bit of time with each other, but when you put it all together, it's still a different dynamic and perspective. We're becoming so much better as a team.”

That said, lofty expectations are seldom easy to deal with. “There is a little more weight on our shoulders going into it, trying to win the title again,” said Cull. “We've got to really calm down and not get to caught up in having a bad game – everybody has a bad game.”

There is a little irony in the way the lineup is devised for the local quartet. Jake Horgan will spend much of his winter playing vice for his older brother, while Max Cull is the final rock thrower for both his own U21 team, as well as the St Charles high school team. No big deal with a switch here, according to the 17 year old grade 12 Cardinal who is looking to pursue his academic interests within the Bio Medical field at Laurentian University in the fall.

“I've played front end for four to five years before I started playing as a skip, so I've had experience in all positions,” said Cull. “Now this, it's kind of both coming together, a bit of a mix. The shots are close to the same shots I've always been playing.”

The east coast will not be the only place that quality shot-making is being featured. On the day before play begins at U18 nationals, the NOCA will crown a representative to the 2018 Brokerlink Mixed Curling Championships in Winnipeg. Because of the split season approach, that week-long competition does not take place until November of 2018.

That means that one of ten Northern Ontario entries will have a seven plus month break from the time they claim the NOCA banner to the time they don the green and gold. Laurentian University Nursing student Sara Guy would have no issue dealing with the delay. A long-time member of the Krysta Burns rink that regularly frequented Junior nationals, Guy is heading to provincials with a squad that enjoys far less familiarity.

“I was actually working one Wednesday night (at Curl Sudbury) and Sandy (MacEwan) and Jordan (Chandler) were sitting at the table with some teammates,” she recalled. They enquired about her availability to curl mixed, and while she still had to OK the time off with school, she was all aboard, though perhaps a tad confused.

“They said it was in Nipigon and I thought they meant Nepean, so I was like, “yes, for sure”,” she said with a laugh. “I had a bit of a geography lesson.” Fifteen hour geographic distances aside (by road), Guy is approaching the event in much the same way as do many of the teams that are often created on something of a haphazard basis.

“I know it sounds cliché, but just having fun is really important,” she continued. “We're right around exam time and I have stress from that, so I think I just want to get there and be content with how the weekend is going – just enjoy the experience and stay in the moment.”

Tracy Auld rounds out Team Chandler, while Kira Brunton joins forces with a Thunder Bay connection, curling with Zach Warkentin, Kate Sherry and Kurtis Byrd. Kyle Chandler (sibling to Jordan) will also be in the field, playing second for the Charlie Robert crew from Sault Ste Marie.

Finally, out in Leduc (Alberta), affable Sudbury curler Amanda Gates and partner Trevor Bonot of Thunder Bay remain right in the thick of the race to secure a playoff berth at the 2018 Mixed Doubles Curling Championship. With 11 draws in the books, the NOCA reps boast a record of 4-2, sitting third in Pool “B”, with the top three teams advancing from each of the four pools.

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