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Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2019
Green and gold grinding it out
2019-04-06
by Randy Pascal

The rink of Sandy MacEwan, Laura Johnston, Gavan Jamieson and Amanda Corkal have monikered themselves the “Green & Gold Grinders”.

Sure, it might not be the name that is emblazoned across the NOCA attire that adorn the quartet when they represent Northern Ontario at the 2020 Canadian Mixed Curling Championship in Saguenay (PQ) in November, but one can hardly blame them for feeling a little like they survived a war last weekend in New Liskeard.

Dropping two of their first three games and playing at least two more games than any other team in the field by virtue of coming up the back side of a double knockout format, the mixed crew that represented the North Bay Granite Club (though both MacEwan and Corkal are long-time Sudburians) doubled the Horgan family squad 6-3 in the final, earning a berth at nationals.

“We were gassed and we said that we might as well just play one more game,” said MacEwan this week, looking back on a schedule that would see his team play three games on Saturday and three more on Sunday. For the record, by virtue of being the “A” qualifiers, the team of Tanner Horgan, Tracy Fleury, Jake Horgan and Jennifer Wylie were entering game four, late Sunday afternoon, as MacEwan and company took to the ice for a ninth time.

Given that the skip had never curled competitively with any of his grouping prior to the first draw at the Horne Granite Curling Club - “we had one hour and a half practice in North Bay and let 'er rip”, said MacEwan – the extra outings might not have been the worse thing in the world.

“It was almost advantageous to us, in the sense that we were learning to communicate more, I was seeing everybody throw more rocks, I started to know where to put my broom. Chemistry is hard to define, sometimes, just because it's more of a feeling. But certainly communication, predicting what people are going to say, what they are going to do, is helpful.”

“I think they developed a really good feel for how I was going to call the game, what kind of weight I was going to call,” MacEwan added. “I knew what kind of weight they were going to throw – basically everything that kind of comes together for a team that plays together for a long time. We kind of got some of those things.”

While that may be true, it's not as though it was completely smooth sailing for Team MacEwan, all of whom, ironically, were born in 1985. After following up a game one victory over Patrick Dizlacky (6-1) with losses to Abby Deschene (8-3) and Ryan Sayer (7-5), the eventual champs had no margin for error in navigating their way through the ranks of the “C” qualifier.

Two more victories (5-0 against Mark Fawcett and 6-2 versus Eric Gelinas) would pit MacEwan against a very accomplished Mike Assad foursome, with the latter holding a 5-3 lead into the eighth and final end. Pulling three out of the fire, the NOCA champs capped off their improbable run, besting Sayer 6-3, before knocking off Team Horgan by the exact same score.

Now they must deal with the uniqueness of the mixed curling set-up that features a gap of almost exactly seven months before MacEwan and company take part in the Canadian playdowns from November 4th to the 9th.

“The Amethyst Curling Camp is now in North Bay (in July), so we'll definitely take advantage of that, getting a chance to play together or practice together in the summer,” said MacEwan. “I'm sure that we'll look at a couple of things in the fall. We'll definitely get a handful of practices in, either in Sudbury or North Bay, perhaps looking to play in a small bonspiel just to prep.”

Of course, it's not as though any of the four are without other curling interest. A 12-team elementary curling league that MacEwan organized for a second straight year wrapped up recently, with Ecole Ste Marie (Valérie Ouimet, Charlotte Castonguay, Haley Clark, Keanna Jewers, Jack Bisson) taking top spot via a tie-breaker over the representatives from St Charles Elementary (Logan West, Jack Gouchie, Jordan Cantin, Evan Rioux, Tristan St Germain).

While the top two posted identical records of 9-1, Churchill Public School (Brendan Rajala, Nathan Radey, Emma Salverti, Logan Therrien, Caitlin Slivinski) slipped into third at 7-3, while Queen Elizabeth Public School was presented with the Mike Kurdell Memorial Award for Sportsmanship and Team Spirit.

“I was most pleased that a lot of the kids returned and improved, and I'm very happy with how much the kids are enjoying it,” said MacEwan. “That's my number one thing. I want them out, I want them enjoying curling, I want them to come back, and I want them to curl when they're in high school and when they're older.”

It's not as though the kids are without some great role models. As play continued Friday evening at the Canadian U18 Curling Championship in Sherwood Park (Alberta), the Idylwylde Golf & Counry Club rink of Bella Croisier, Jamie Smith, Piper Croisier and Lauren Rajala found themselves very well positioned heading into championship round play which begins on Saturday.

After an 8-6 loss in their first game to Julia Bakos of Alberta, Team Croisier proceeded to win five straight matches, including a huge 5-4 triumph, in extra ends, over Emily Deschenes of Ontario. With a record of 5-1, the locals topped the standings in Pool "A", one game better than both Saskatchewan and Alberta (#2).

Team Croisier moved just a game away from securing a shot at a medal on Sunday, stopping British Columbia (Kaila Buchy) Saturday morning. For a change, it would be Northern Ontario that would jump out to a 3-0 lead, picking up a huge three in the sixth with the hammer en route to a 7-4 win in the open round of championship pool play.

Later this afternoon, Croisier and company will face Melodie Forsythe of New Brunswick, with the winner advancing directly to semi-final action on Sudnay morning.

Last but not least, there is but one local hopeful competing at the 2019 Curling Club Championship Provincials in Port Arthur this weekend, as the Capreol Curling Club crew of Carole Paquette, Sue Prud'homme, Karen Croteau, Jodie Giroux and Sophie Paquette look to beat out five other NOCA entries for the right to don the green and gold at nationals early next winter.

And if they need grind it out to earn their banner, much in the same manner as Team MacEwan, well so be it.

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