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Local curling scene turned inside out (of town)
2022-03-05

Out of town curlers were enjoying a measure of success in Sudbury recently while the local lot made their presence felt right across the province.

Such was the week that was in the land of draws and double takeouts and such.

While it may have started as something of an after-thought, Tanner Horgan and partner Keira McLaughlin might be contemplating pursuing glory within the mixed doubles circuit a little more diligently, moving forward.

After capturing their first bonspiel of the year in the fall, the Curl Sudbury pair added the Ontario Mixed Doubles Tour Championship to their resume late last month, defeating the tandem of Riley Sandham and Brendan Craig (Guelph) 7-3 in the final.

“The mixed doubles team started as throwing a team together to get some extra practice – and then we won our first event,” said Horgan, forced to squeak out a 3-2 victory over his younger brother Jake and partner Abby Deschene in the quarter-finals as part of a 6-0 weekend. “Now we have another win and it seems like we may really have a knack for it.”

“This is big for us going forward because I think that we will be carrying these points over to next season in trying to quality for nationals.”

The 18 team field in Wingham (Huron County – Bluewater) featured several duos who have enjoyed success on the mixed doubles circuit, including Sudbury native Kira Brunton and partner Brett Lyon-Hatcher (lost in QF), Kim Tuck and Wayne Tuck Jr (lost 6-5 to McLaughlin/Horgan in SF) and Lauren Wasylkiw and Shane Konings (lost to Team Tuck in QF).

“It’s certainly changed in the last few years,” noted Horgan. “Four years ago, you didn’t get as many people playing but the second it was in the Olympics, it all of a sudden just skyrocketed. All of the top four player names came into the sport and started doing well.”

Understandably, this presents the challenge of balancing a schedule, an area where Horgan is thankful to men’s open teammates Jonathan Beuk, Wesley Forget, Scott Chadwick and Jacob Horgan for their wide-ranging perspective to the sport.

“I think for our team, it was understood that there are opportunities in both,” he said. “I don’t know if you’re turning down a men’s event to play a doubles event with your girlfriend would fly on all of the teams – but I think a lot of the teams are more understanding of that.”

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Still with the topic of doing double duty, local curlers Jamie Smith and Isabelle Ladouceur (transplanted New Brunswick native) had already secured their spot at the World U21 Curling Championships in Sweden, now scheduled for May. But now, thanks to Covid (or the Omicron variant, more specifically), the red-hot duo have added to their season for the ages, adding an OUA crown to the mix.

“Honestly, it wasn’t that difficult to get excited for it (the OUA Championships),” said Smith, reached only a few days after she and Ladouceur teamed with Kelly Middaugh and Emma McKenzie, edging the Waterloo Warriors 5-4 in the final and giving the Wilfred Laurier their first title since 2018, a banner that marked the sixth in eight years for the school.

“With the original schedule of Worlds, we weren’t even going to be able to play in this event. We were just really excited to get that opportunity.”

In fact, with any luck at all, perhaps opportunity begets opportunity.

“There was maybe some extra pressure on this event because there’s not a lot of opportunities for a varsity team to show that you are a strong team, to put our name out there into the conversation, at least,” said Smith, alluding to the eventual U Sports selection of the rink that will represent Canada at the 2023 World University Games in Lake Placid, New York.

Relatively easy wins over Ontario Tech (11-3), Carleton (4-1) and Algoma (9-1) gave way to a round robin loss to Trent (2-1), before the Hawks rebounded to get back on line in the playoffs, besting both Ryerson (8-2) and Carleton (4-1) en route to the final.

“I don’t think this was the greatest event I’ve ever played”, acknowledged Smith. “I honestly didn’t think I threw that well, but that’s a testament to the team picking it up when maybe I wasn’t playing that well. Just being able to pull out wins when you’re not really playing that well is a really good skill to have.”

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Building a youth curling program through the time of the pandemic is not the easiest feat in the world, so full marks go out to the Espanola Spartans high school coaching tandem of David Gallant and Al Emiry. Earlier this week at Curl Sudbury, the school recorded a rare NOSSA sweep, taking both the boys and girls finals, with skips Molly Gallant and Ethan Lamothe skillfully guiding their respective rinks to victory.

While both groups included a number of teens who were introduced to the sport in the past decade or so as members of kids sessions at the Espanola Curling Club over the past decade or so, the young ladies were not yet entirely convinced of their ability to rank as top end contenders this year.

“To be honest, I think we lacked a little confidence heading into NOSSA,” said Gallant, who teamed up with Sophia Ferridge, Zoe Rothwell and Zoe Hill, defeating a field that also included finalists Marymount Academy along with Manitoulin Secondary and Macdonald-Cartier. “We weren’t really sure what to expect. We didn’t know any of the teams, who we were up against.”

Still, there was the knowledge of a very solid curling background that both teams brought t the table. “I think it helped that we have all been curling together since pretty much grade nine, maybe even longer than that,” said Gallant. “We’ve grown up curling together. We kind of bonded as a team as we grew up and have improved over the years.”

NOSSA champs in 2019, Lamothe and his boys team of Ryan Forcier, Craig Lepine, Austin Leclair and Logan Nadeau were likely a little further along on the confidence scale, for very good reason. “Winning was definitely an achievable thought this year,” suggested Lamothe. “It was definitely in our mindset.”

“We actually won the year before Covid and our team only changed a little.”

Still coming down from the high of this special double takeout – “it’s super exciting to have both us and the guys win,” said Gallant – the Spartan reps were fortunate enough to soak it all in together, with the girls final already in the books as the boys took to the ice, their female counterparts now on the other side of the glass, ready to cheer them on.

“The odd time, here and there, we would give each other a thumbs up if someone got a nice shot because you can’t really hear through the glass,” said Gallant. Good thing, according to her fellow final rock thrower. “I know that people are watching but I try my best not to acknowledge them,” said Lamothe.

“You look up and people are either shaking their heads or just smiling.”

Sudbury Wolves