Very little if anything that has transpired within the local curling scene in the past twelve months has borne much resemblance at all to prior history.
Yet sure as the rising temperatures signal the melting of the snow and the frolicking of families outdoors, the curling world of 2021 finds familiarity with the annual roster shuffling that is somewhat akin to a sport specific version of musical chairs.
This past February, Megan Smith found herself in Calgary, alongside teammates Krysta Burns, Sara Guy, Amanda Gates and Kira Brunton, with four of the five making their first ever appearance at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
Roughly one month later, it was announced that Smith had moved on to Team (Mackenzie) Kiemele for the 2021-2022 campaign. Now in complete fairness to the 23 year-old Sudburian who is just wrapping up her final few months within the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University, she had not been originally slated to rejoin the Burns rink this past winter.
That is merely the geographic reality as curlers with impressive junior resumes begin to forge out the identity of their non-curling careers, wherever that may take them. In the case of Smith, her curling pursuits had to fall in line with the fact that she has recently accepted positions with a pair of school boards in the Kitchener-Waterloo region, anxious to begin her teaching career in earnest, come the fall.
From there, things simply fell nicely into place.
“Mackenzie is a good friend of mine - and I was able to spare for their team last fall,” said Smith, who will be the eldest within a lineup rotation of five players that also includes Katie Ford, Emma McKenzie and Jessica Filipcic. “I noticed pretty quickly that they work really hard, which was exciting to see.”
“It was important that we are all like-minded, that we work hard, enjoy the game and like to have fun,” Smith continued. “Those are three things that are really important to me as well.”
With all four other teammates still completing their university studies come the 2021-2022 season, Team Kiemele had identified the need to add an alternate, at the very least. Given the curling acumen of this particular alternate, however, a decision was soon made to incorporate a roster rotation in what they hope will be a busy winter of curling.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get every Friday off with university school schedules,” said Smith. “Hopefully this will allow us to play as often as we want.”
Competing in the Open Women’s division, the Kiemele quintet should benefit nicely from the newfound experience of their newest team member, fresh off taking to the ice with the very best female curlers in the country.
“There are so many things that I will be able to take away (from the Scotties) moving forward,” said Smith. “For myself, I wasn’t really focused on the outcome. It was more about trying to put my best game forward, given all of the circumstances.”
The well-decorated curler had thrown stones only sporadically in the months leading to the national playdowns. Team Burns had not enjoyed a single game together, as a unit, until they reached Alberta. “Overall, I was happy with my performance,” said Smith. “I went there and realized that with zero real honest preparation with my teammates, we were still able to compete.”
“I’m excited to hopefully be able to play more, pending COVID, obviously, to hone my skills and really put some time into this.”******************************************************************************
The Bella Croisier rink knew that they would be looking for a back-end addition to their team for the 2021-2022 season.
Turns out they didn’t stop looking until they had reached the outskirts of Edmonton, Alberta.
A few weeks back, the Idylwylde & Country Club trio of Bella Croisier, Emilie Lovitt and Piper Croisier welcomed 17 year-old Julia Bakos to the fold.
The ultra-accomplished soon-to-be graduate of Vimy Ridge Academy (Sport School) in St Albert (AB) first crossed paths with the Croisier crew at the 2018 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, the teams reuniting and spending time together just weeks later at the Canadian U18 Curling Championships in Sherwood Park.
The skip of her team for the past few years, Bakos had risen quickly through the ranks, drawn to the sport right from the start. “My parents were actually recreational curlers, but I spent all of my time at the rink, watching them from upstairs,” said the youngest of two girls in the family.
“Eventually, I was on the ice with them and I fell in love with curling since then. When I was in grade seven, I was 12 years old and that year, I was the youngest curler at the Alberta Winter Games.”
Now, she prepares to attend Laurentian University in the fall, dealing with a season of flux that features a positional change from the teenager who loved to throw the final stones. “I really like the shots at skip, throwing the high pressure hits or the nice draw to the four foot to win,” she said.
“But I already knew that Bella was going to be skipping, so that was no surprise. I’ll play third, which I’ve never played before - so this should be fun. I have to remember to acknowledge that I am not skipping any more. I don’t want to be too overbearing with Bella, giving too much of my input.”
Though it might seem unusual to search three provinces away to round out a junior curling team, there are actually some very good reasons why Bakos makes for an ideal fit on Team Croisier. “Piper and I have the same curling birthday, and we wanted to age up into women’s play together,” explained Bakos.
“They were looking for someone with back-end experience - and I intended on going away to university.”
Following her appearance with a team who all aged out after the (2018) Canada Winter Games, Bakos had to scramble assembling a team for 2019-2020, one which still managed to qualify for provincials. This time around, she wasn’t taking any chances.
“I was definitely on the ball this year, figuring out what everyone was doing so that I wouldn’t be stuck in that position again,” she said. “I was a little worried that I might be left behind.”
It really doesn’t sound like musical chairs - the curling variety - doesn’t it.