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2021-11-20

So close. So very, very close.

Amanda Gates and the Fort William Curling Club based mixed team of Trevor Bonot (skip), Jackie McCormick (vice) and Mike McCarville (second) came within an extra end loss of qualifying for the final four at the 2021 Canadian Mixed Curling Championship recently in Canmore (Alberta).

After posting an impressive 5-1 record in Pool A play, enough to leave the NOCA reps tied for first place with both Québec (Jean-Michel Menard) and the Northwest Territories (Jamie Koe), Gates and company dropped three of four playoff cross-over games, including a heart-breaking 6-5 extra-end loss to Saskatchewan in their final encounter.

Their combined record of 6-4 would leave them one game back of Ontario, New Brunswick and Québec, all at 7-3, with NWT showing the way at 9-1. It was a disappointing end to a week that started with so much promise.

Team Bonot looked very impressive early, posting rather lopsided wins over Alberta/Craig McAlpine (11-5), Nova Scotia/Craig Burgess (10-2), Manitoba/Alex Forrest (8-1) and Nunavut/Peter Van Strien (10-1), sitting at 4-1 at that point by virtue of a singular defeat at the hands of Québec (6-3).

They closed round robin play, besting 14-time Briar representative Jamie Koe and the NWT rink 4-3, recording a steal in the eighth end for the win. Unfortunately, the playoff round proved more challenging, as losses to British Columbia/Sebastien Robillard (5-3) and New Brunswick/James Grattan (4-1) were followed by a key 8-3 victory over Ontario/Mike McLean.

In the end, it all came down to the battle with skip Dean Grindheim and his North Battleford (SK) quartet, a back and forth affair which went the way of the westerners in the ninth and deciding end. The Menard rink representing Québec eventually secured gold medals on the final day, trimming Ontario in the final (5-4) after upsetting the NWT in the semi-final affair (6-4).

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Of course, all eyes of the Canadian curling world this coming week will be on Saskatoon, site of the Olympic Trials. Sudbury is well represented, with skip Tracy Fleury and her Manitoba based rink among the favourites to claim the women’s title, in a tight grouping with Rachel Homan and Kerri Einarson.

Lockerby Composite graduate Kendra Lilly is also part of the field, serving as vice-skip for the Krista McCarville rink out of Thunder Bay. In the men’s draw, skip Tanner Horgan and his team of Jonathan Beuk (vice), Wes Forget (second), Scott Chadwick (lead) and Jacob Horgan (alternate) enter the event as the lowest ranked team in the field of nine entries.

That said, the team also enters play on the heels of a very impressive pre-Trial qualifying competition in Nova Scotia, one which has the 23 year-old highly accomplished Sudbury curler feeling pretty good entering play as a dark-horse this week.

“It (pre-Trials) was definitely the best that we’ve played all year,” said Horgan. “We just kept getting better throughout the event. There were a lot of changes throughout the season and it just seems like at the pre-Trials, it finally clicked. I think it’s really promising because it felt like we got better instead of just getting hot.”

Displaying an astounding consistency, Team Beuk/Horgan surrendered only one steal all week while capturing eight of the nine games they contested. “We were being a little more patient; that was certainly something that we were doing a little differently at pre-Trials,” said Horgan. “We weren’t taking a whole lot of risks.”

“At no time were we looking at a bunch and having to make a hero shot. We felt like we were really in control.”

After reeling off six straight wins in pool play and besting Paul Flemming 6-5 in the “A” draw semi-final, Horgan and his mates made good use of their double lives. The crew who curl officially out of Kingston lost a 9-8 thriller to Jason Gunnlaugson but bounced back to beat Glenn Howard 7-4 to claim the second Olympic Trials spot up for grabs.

“Our last day in Liverpool was a very good example of how this team functions when we are doing the things that we want to be doing,” said Horgan. “We came out and played a really good game against Gunner (Gunnlaugson) and lost, and then we came out in our next game and played even better.”

The team will open play Saturday night against Kevin Koe, facing Brendan Bottcher the next afternoon before enjoying the bye on Monday. “It’s a tough field, overall,” said Horgan. “I think it’s the kind of field where anyone can beat anyone, to be quite honest.”

As for his older sister, Fleury will face Einarson right out of the gate on Saturday afternoon, taking on Albertan Kelsey Rocque on Sunday.

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Where the 2021 Tim Horton’s Curling Trials represents the absolute elite of Canadian curling, the simple truth is that many a very talented young curler must make a difficult decision following high-school, trying to determine exactly how much time and effort they can devote to a sport that they love while still keeping an eye on the academic requirements that are far more likely to lead to their full-time careers.

Such is the predicament facing 18 year old Olivier Bonin-Ducharme.

A native of New Liskeard, the first year student at Laurentian University in Sociologie (french) joined forces with former foe Samuel Branconnier this fall, competing at the Best Western U21 Men’s Provincials in Timmins last month.

A loss in the event final to Dallas Burgess of Kakabeka Falls was disappointing, but not entirely surprising to the Curl Sudbury quartet which features three quarters of a roster completing their first year of university, including a skip (Branconnier) enrolled in a very demanding engineering program.

“The number one thing for us is school; it’s always going to be school,” said Bonin-Ducharme, who served as a long-time skip in a Tri-Towns rink that competed within the NOCA U18 circuit for years. “School and education are our main priorities. We’re not going too hardcore this year.”

All of which is not to say that all hope was lost, even before the playdowns began at the McIntyre Curling Club. “We knew that we had a chance,” said Bonin-Ducharme. “But we also knew that these were really good teams. We got into it with a relaxed but focused mentality.”

The team, which also featured Patrik Labrosse and Tyler Smith (along with coach Mark Robinson) will continue to curl in the Wednesday night league at Curl Sudbury, with Labrosse and Bonin-Ducharme also cracking the varsity roster with the Voyageurs.

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Joining the Olympic Trials contingent out west next week are the Curl Sudbury squad of Isabelle Ladouceur, Jamie Smith, Lauren Rajala, Katie Shaw and Katy Lukowich, recently crowned Northern Ontario Junior curling champions.

The team will play in Pool A along with groups from New Brunswick (Erica Cluff), Manitoba (Meghan Walter), Quebec (Cynthia St-Georges), Newfoundland (Mackenzie Mitchell) and the Northwest Territories (Cassie Rogers). Play begins Monday, with Northern Ontario trading stones with New Brunswick in their national ice-breaker.

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