In highly unusual times, the NOCA (Northern Ontario Curling Association) required a somewhat unconventional method to determine their provincial representation at the upcoming 2022 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Thunder Bay.
Thankfully, the choice that emerged was anything but unconventional.
Relying strictly on the CTRS (Canadian Team Ranking System) - the NOCA rep would normally be crowned via provincial playdowns - Northern Ontario administrators decided that the hometown team of Krista McCarville (skip), Sudbury’s own Kendra Lilly (vice), Ashley Sippala (second) and Sarah Potts (lead) would do the honours of donning the green and gold.
Truth be told, there are any number of excellent reasons why the selection of Team McCarville makes a great deal of sense, starting with the fact that the team is sitting tenth overall in the country (according to CTRS).
Throw in boatloads of experience – this will mark the ninth appearance at nationals for McCarville, the past four with this existing team – along with plenty of recent success (the team finished third at Olympic Trials in November) and you have the makings of a choice which will garner very little debate in these parts.
“This decision had to be made by the end of this weekend; we need to appoint our teams three weeks ahead of time for nationals,” noted NOCA Executive Director Bobby Ray.
The provincial championships scheduled for Kenora this past week fell victim to the current Ontario shutdown, forcing Ray and company to find some other means of awarding their berth at the 2022 Scotties. As of today, that tournament that is scheduled to run from January 28th until February 6th is still a go in northwestern Ontario, in spite of the very limited turnover time between the date of the expiry of the current pause and the start of play in Thunder Bay.
“I know that Curling Canada wants to run any events that they can,” said Ray. “They are just giving everything the most amount of time that they can before having to call anything off.”
No surprise then that closer to home, the Nickel City Curling Championships (Canadian Mixed Doubles / U Sports / CCAA) that are slotted into the mid-March stretch from the 15th to the 27th in Sudbury continue to move forward in the planning phase, with a final decision on a postponement or not likely to come at the end of February.
As for the road to the Tim Horton’s Brier, the NOCA will mirror the decision making process that was employed for the provincial Scotties, but only if necessary, given that the Canadian Championships do not commence until March 4th in Lethbridge. “If we have to, on the men’s side, it would be the same (CTRS), but right now, we’re planning on running a men’s provincial, if we can,” said Ray.
“We have to name a men’s team by the middle of February, so we are going to put a plan together in the next week and then await to see if the lockdown gets extended or not.”
It’s a somewhat similar story for the 2022 Canadian Under-18 Curling Championships, now postponed in Timmins from the original dates of February 14th to the 20th. It looks as though Timmins organizers have opted to simply back their commitment up by one year, tackling the 2023 event, leaving Curling Canada to see if and when U18 nationals can be held this year – and if so, where.
“We’ll definitely host a (U18) provincial, if we’re able and if Curling Canada is planning to run a national,” said Ray. “I would even say that even if Curling Canada doesn’t host a national, there may be some merit for us still hosting something that the (Northern Ontario) kids can play in, as long as we can do so safely.”
All of the above is just a sample of what Nickel City Curling Championship co-chair Sandra Lahti and partners in crime Bryna Patman and Kelly Irvine (and their committee) are dealing with on a daily basis. Thankfully, Lahti is no stranger to different sectors of sporting involvement, dating back to even before her basketball days at Sudbury Secondary, part of the Mitch Lalonde coached teams that captured OFSAA Championships and the like.
“I played everything from ringette to basketball and volleyball and softball and soccer – pretty much everything,” said the 56 year-old long-time member and former president of the Copper Cliff Curling Club. “But I never really got into curling (as a kid). I thought it was something that you did only at those exclusive clubs.”
By her early thirties, Lahti was not only aware of the mass appeal of curling - she was absolutely smitten, reeled in hook, line and sinker. “For me, I think it was that cerebral part of curling; I’ve always been that thinker in the sports setting,” she said. “I wanted to understand it. I think that’s why I gravitated to coaching.”
“Every game was different, every shot was different. I think that part of curling really got me.”
Just a few years into her own career as a curler, Lahti was sharing her knowledge with others, young and old. Still, there are pros and cons to being on either side of this equation, whether it is out on the ice or behind the glass.
“I am probably more comfortable coaching adults, even though I have had more experience and success, I guess, with youth curlers,” she said. “As an athlete, there is just more of a comfort zone. As a coach, it’s a bigger picture that you have to worry about.”
There are, in fact, very few aspects of sport that Sandra Lahti has not dabbled in, having done some officiating (and coaching) in volleyball, then serving as a director with the provincial body, and finally a natural to help plan the events that keep local curling clubs running.
“I like to get involved because in that way, to me, it makes you a better person to help within the organization,” she said. “I was a better coach because I was an official. And when it came to the ladies bonspiels, they were just so much fun, getting to know curlers right across the city.”
Yes, clubs all compete, to some extent, against each other for membership. Yet they all realize that the end goal is always to increase the size of the total pot of curlers in the region. “When I was playing with a ladies team, we would always make a point of participating at bonspiels at all of the different local clubs, just to experience them and to get to know those curlers.”
“And then they would reciprocate.”
To her way of thinking, it was an absolute no-brainer to bring together the combined forces of the Copper Cliff Curling Club, the Coniston Curling Club and Curl Sudbury for the upcoming championships.
“It has to be done collaboratively; otherwise, it’s just too daunting a task,” said Lahti. “I experienced, as a spectator, the success of the Worlds in North Bay and what it did for that community. By hosting the Worlds, they enhanced curling in northern Ontario – then they did it again with the Pinty’s.”
“Now, it’s our turn to chip in.”