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Thursday, Apr. 25, 2019
Little sister Gates gets her shot at the Scotties
by Randy Pascal

Technically speaking, the upcoming 2019 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Sydney (Nova Scotia) will not represent the first trip to women's nationals, as a participant, for local curler Jennifer Gates.

It only feels that way.

“I was there in 2012 as a fifth for Team Horgan,” noted the highly accomplished local talent. “They asked me to be their fifth, kind of after the fact. This was my first time actually going through the practice of winning the provincials.”

In fact, Gates can draw on a whopping two shots of previous experience at the Scotties, as she returns as a member of the NOCA championship winning Krista McCarville rink (McCarville (skip), Kendra Lilly (vice), Jen Gates (second), Sarah Potts (lead)). Not that she is particularly concerned.

The truth is that the two-time national university champion and Canadian representative at the 2013 Winter Universiade in Italy has been forced to drastically change her outlook on curling over the course of the past 8-10 months or so.

It was just last summer that Gates was first approached about being on “stand-by”, so to speak, for Team McCarville, with a couple of members of the front end contemplating starting a family in the very near future. When Ashley Sippala had to step away from the team in the fall, Gates was more than happy to come on board.

“The transition has been relatively easy,” she said. “I think it's really helped having Kendra in town to practice with, and the fact that I had curled with her for so many years before. Also, I am used to working hard at the sport. I definitely didn't expect to play (this year), but when the time came, my focus was to take the place of Ashley as best as I could.”

“I didn't want the team to skip a beat because of me.”

Ironically, her relative newness to the team was not even the most awkward aspect of the NOCA final showdown with long-time Team Fleury front-ender Jenna Enge. If Gates and her mates were to move on to the Canadian championship, it would have to come at the expense of older sister Amanda, jumping in to play lead for the Enge rink this year.

“It was a very interesting game emotionally,” conceded Gates. “We're both very competitive, but my sister knows what this meant for me, because I didn't think that I would have this chance. Luckily, my sister is one of the most supportive people in my life.”

“I think we separate the sister relationship on ice, but as soon as the game is over, we go back to being sisters,” she added. “I think we have kind of figured it out over the years.” In fact, Amanda will be joining Jennifer in Nova Scotia, part of what is sure to be a traditionally boisterous Northern Ontario cheering section as the 50% local entry meet up with the very best in the country from February 15th to the 24th.

Meanwhile, in Little Current, it was mixed results for the locals as the U-18 Boys and Girls Regions 4/5 playdowns took place. No great surprise that the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club quartet of Bella Croisier, Jamie Smith, Piper Croisier and Lauren Rajala blasted their way through to provincials in Fort Frances in early March, picking up three straight wins over their clubmates, Alexandra Buttery, Bailee Bouffard, Zoe Vallière, Samantha Digiglio and Clara Dissanayake.

Team Croisier will prep for the Ontario showdown by competing in the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer (Alberta) later this month, hoping to return home to secure a second western visit, with U18 nationals being staged in Sherwood Park (Alberta) from April 2nd to the 7th.

On the boys side, it will be the Malcolm O'Bright rink representing the North Bay Granite Curling Club that advances to the NOCA bonspiel, besting the Idylwylde quintet of Samuel Branconnier, Patrik Labrosse, James McVittie, Alex Rhéaume and Sébastien Whissell 8-5 in the final. Team O'Bright had previously knocked off the local squad by scores of 7-2 and 9-1, also sweeping aside Team Smith (Idylwylde) in round robin play.

Joining skip Tyler Smith on the second Sudbury men's entry were Brendan Rajala (vice), Benjamin O'Connor (second), Ian Deschene (lead) and Carson Nelder (fifth). Finally, on a local level, the Capreol Curling Club will be the scene, this weekend, for the Region 5 Curling Club Championship, with one team from a field of five earning the right to move on to the NOCA battle in Port Arthur in early April.

Four of the five teams taking part this weekend are Sudbury based, including:

Team Blanchette (Capreol CC): Greg Blanchette, Rob Paquette, Mike Auger, Robert Gagné
Team Daoust (Curl Sudbury): David Daoust, Félix Legendre, Allan Nanchin, Steven Baptista
Team Chartier (Idylwylde): Patrick Chartier, Rich Schmidt, Chris Jillings, Steve Garrett
Team Deschene (Idylwylde): Paul Deschene, Marc Rivard, Keith Fervick, Mark Carmichael

And one final shout-out to all local curling fans as the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club will be hosting an all-inclusive “Send-Off” party that will feature both Kendra Lilly and Jennifer Gates, as well as Tracy Fleury (representing Manitoba), all leaving for the Tournament of Hearts, as well as the afore-mentioned Croisier rink, and last but not least, long-time member Bruce Munro, who heads to Saskatoon (Saskatchewan) in April as the lead for the Al Hackner NOCA masters championship quartet.

The celebration is taking place this coming Tuesday evening (February 12th), with festivities kicking off some time between 8:00 and 8:30 p.m., after the first draw of the All-Comers League is completed.

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