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Sunday, May. 19, 2019
Chasing university curling glory, and other news from nationals
by Randy Pascal

Variations of the Tanner Horgan rink have enjoyed success at pretty much every level of curling to date.

Now, they would like to add the university setting to that resumé.

The multi-medal winning skip at U-21 nationals will be joined by the familiar faces of younger brother Jacob (Horgan) at vice, Max Cull (second), Maxime Blais (lead) and Mark Robinson (fifth) in representing the Laurentian Voyageur men's curling hopes this weekend in Kitchener-Waterloo.

“Curling is one of those sports where you just never know, but one of our goals is to make the playoffs,” noted coach Ryan Lafreniere, now in his eighth season with the L.U. crew. Acknowledging that he is icing very experienced teams on both the men's and women's side of the draw, Lafreniere noted that this particular level of curling slides nicely into the competitive spectrum in the sport.

U Sport and Curling Canada got together to try and fill a gap with teams coming out of U21/juniors to men's and women's events,” he said. “This is actually classified as a U-25 sport.” And while one might think that this latest challenge for Horgan and company might well constitute curling overkill given the crazy schedule they have maintained since last August, Blais believes that this is not at all the case.

“It's been a fun ride, so far, so it's hard to get exhausted when you're having fun,” said the native of Smooth Rock Falls and second year Business student in Sudbury. “We're really looking to try and make it to university nationals. It would be our first experience as a university team to go there.”

That said, the glut of bonspiels that they have attended also allows Team Horgan to enjoy an extremely knowledgeable assessment of the field they are about to face. “There are some schools that have been good for some years now, so you know that they are going to be good, and then there's players that we know from playing juniors, and we know that they are very strong players,” said Blais.

The same holds true for the opposition the Voyageur women are about to face. Thankfully, a team comprised of Kira Brunton (skip), Megan Smith (vice) and front-enders Mikaela Cheslock, Emma Johnson and Alyssa Denyer can pretty much go toe to toe with any of their OUA peers.

Perhaps their biggest hurdle to overcome is a lack of familiarity as a team, though not because there has not been a substantial cross-over of teammates within this group over the years. “I have played on the same team as everyone on the team, at one time or another,” said Johnson, a 20 year old 3rd year Bio-Medical Biology major at Laurentian. “Even though we may be competing against each other in other competitions, we can set that aside to work for a common goal when we are playing university.”

Though the juggling of her academic and athletic demands is not an easy one, Johnson is not about to pull the plug on one of her primary passions quite yet. “For myself, in the future, I find that having an outlet for my competitive edge is a really good thing,” she said. “You can't predict the future, but I would like to think that keeping this sport as part of my life is a really great asset. It's very fulfilling.”

Three days into the OUA championships, both teams are very much alive in their quest to secure a top four placement after round robin play (seven games in all), advancing them to quarter-final action either late Sunday (women) or early Monday morning (men).

Both Horgan and Brunton are sitting at 3-1 as Draw 12 began late Saturday morning, the men racking up victories over the UOIT Ridgebacks (7-2), the Trent Excalibur (7-6 in an extra end) and the Waterloo Warriors (7-6), bore falling 5-3 to the Ryerson Rams on Saturday.

Team Brunton, meanwhile, has taken care of business against the Ryerson Rams (7-4), Algoma Thunderbirds (11-2) and McMaster Marauders (6-4), falling to the Queen's Gaels (6-2), and preparing to face the Western Mustangs on Saturday afternoon.

Still within the elite curling ranks, skip Tracy Fleury was among the many talented rock-throwers on hand earlier this week at the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club, as the local curling community offered their best wishes to the Bella Croisier U-18 rink that will represent Ontario at the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alberta later this month.

The timing of the festivities was ideal for Fleury, who has since departed for Sydney (Nova Scotia), host city of the 2019 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Many readers will recall that Fleury and her first year team of Selena Njegovan, Liz Fyfe and Kristin MacCuish recently captured the Manitoba Scotties, this despite surrendering a five-ender to the favoured Kerri Einarson rink in the second end of the final.

“It was scary, an unusual kind of end,” recalled the long-time Idylwylde member of the early pitfall into which they had tumbled. “We still felt kind of OK, because we had been playing so well all week. We didn't know that we could necessarily come back and win it, but we thought we could come back and make a game of it.”

“The main thing was to take multiple points with hammer, and try and hold them to one point when you don't have hammer,” added Fleury, whose team executed that strategy to perfection, battling their way back to register a 13-7 win in the championship affair. Of course, things don't get any easier moving one more rung up the ladder towards a berth at the World Championships.

“The field (at Scotties) is really tough, one of the tougher ones that I've seen,” said Fleury. “If we play our best, we could win it, but if we're off a little bit, we could not make the playoffs.”

The upside is similar for 62 year old Sudburian Bruce Munro, who joins forces with Al Hackner, Eric Harnden and Frank Morrisette for their second crack at the Canadian Masters Curling Championship in April, having captured the event in 2017. “The first time that we curled together, two years ago, it was incredible,” said Munro. “We had an incredible weekend (at provincials).”

“I don't think we missed two shots, collectively, all weekend. This year wasn't the same.”

Despite the tougher path they have travelled, the Northern Ontario reps still will enter play as one of the favourites in the field, with Hackner holding the distinction of being the first ever skip to have claimed the Canadian men's, seniors and masters title. And yet it is not his curling talent that jumps to mind when Munro thinks of the man who is a veritable curling legend.

“What impressed me the most about him (Hackner) is the amount of time that he will spend with fans and people after the games,” said Munro. “He always has time to sign autographs, always giving back to the sport.”

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