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Patience coming out of curling playdowns at a premium
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Three more rinks with Sudbury connections have qualified for Canadian curling championships by virtue of NOCA (Northern Ontario Curling Association) playdowns last weekend – though one will have to be far more patient than the others.

In Fort Frances, the Mia Toner and Brendan Rajala quartets both secured a top two placement at the U18 Provincial Championships, while in North Bay, Amanda Gates returned as lead with Team Bonot as the Thunder Bay based crew defended their Brokerlink Mixed Provincial title last garnered just six months back, in the fall of 2021.

But where Team Toner (Mia Toner, Valérie Ouimet, Justine Toner, Clara Dissanayke) and Team Rajala (Brendan Rajala, Ian Deschene, Kyle Vainio, Jesse Crozier) are right back at it early next month, taking part in U18 nationals in Oakville from May 2nd to the 7th, Team Bonot (Trevor Bonot, Jackie McCormick, Mike McCarville, Amanda Gates) will reconvene in November of 2022, part of the field that will assemble in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in the fall.

With both teams already assured a berth at the U18 Canadians, the Toner foursome avenged a 5-2 round robin loss at the hands of Britney Malette (Kakabeka Falls), bouncing the undefeated first place finishers 8-5 in the final. “We practiced a whole lot,” said vice Valérie Ouimet, discussing some of the factors that helped the Curl Sudbury representatives earn the right to don the Northern Ontario colours for a second time.

(Team Toner had qualified for the 2020 U18 Canadian Curling Championships that were set to take place in Sudbury in April of 2020, the event cancelled just a few weeks following the significant spread of the Covid-19 virus in Ontario that spring)

“There’s not a lot of teams ready to come out on Fridays and Sundays and Mondays and Wednesdays; being dedicated to practices really helped us,” added Ouimet. “We practiced situations, we practiced our releases - we practiced everything.”

While Ouimet and the Toner siblings have been at least partially down this road before, the voyage is a new one for Dissanayake, who stepped in the fill a void on the team last summer. “Fitting in as part of the team was extremely easy; they are just really nice people on top of being super talented,” noted the former alpine ski racer and recent silver medal winner at the SDSSAA Badminton championships.

“We’ve spent so much time together and just become such good friends. Fitting in from a skills standpoint was a little bit difficult at first, just because I had taken some time off from curling. But I do feel that the coaching I have now has really brought me up to the next level.”

No surprise there, with the likes of Lee Toner, Luc Ouimet, Louise Logan and Nicole Dubuc-Charbonneau all part of the coaching mix for the young guns.

“Every practice, we go into it with a plan,” noted second Justine Toner, the youngest member of the team. “Our coaches know exactly what they want to accomplish at every practice. Every practice, we get a little variety: some technique work, a variety of shots, all stuff to help us improve.”

Beyond that, there is no lack of internal development, the progress that comes from these talented young women kind of figuring things out on their own. “Mia and I are always talking about the ice, after a shot is missed, after a shot is made,” said Ouimet. “We keep that communication going all the way through the game.”

“We can tell each other anything and everything.”

Posting a record of 4-2 in the double round robin four team playdowns, Team Rajala finished one game back of the Dallas Burgess (Kakabeka Falls) rink, but more importantly, one game ahead of the Connor Simms entry from Sault Ste Marie. With the event going straight to a 2 vs 1 final, the clubmates to Team Toner knew going into the Sunday morning final their trip to Oakville was assured (Burgess beat Rajala 9-7 to claim the NOCA banner).

As noted at the outset, Bonot, Gates and company will have to wait until November to try and capture a Canadian crown that would lead them to Worlds in 2023 – a feat that both Bonot and McCormick accomplished in 2017 (they would win silver at Worlds).

Suffice to say, staying patient will not be easy.

Back in November in Canmore, at the 2021 Mixed Canadians, Team Bonot recorded a 5-1 mark in pool play, dead even with the likes of Jamie Koe and Jean-Michel Ménard, but then fell just one game shy of the final playoffs with a championship pool record of 6-4.

“I think we all left there feeling like our job was not completed,” said Gates who will be making her fourth trip to Mixed Nationals, to go along with another handful of appearances at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, part of the Tracy (Horgan) Fleury rink that enjoyed so much success in these parts.

“I just think that this team has great everything; on and off the ice, we have a great time,” Gates added. “If we play our best, there is no doubt that this team can win it all – and I think it helps that Trevor and Jackie have won it before. They have proven that they can win it.”

While it would be tough to suggest that Team Bonot will carry a whole lot of momentum from an NOCA championship in which they posted a 7-0 record, but an event which will have taken place seven full months prior to nationals, the recent northern provincials were certainly a testament to the bond that this quartet have quickly created.

“With mixed curling, a lot of times, teams are just put together for provincials,” noted Gates. “With this being our second year together, we had that advantage of having played provincials and nationals together before. We have a really good camaraderie between the four of us.”

And as Valérie Ouimet alluded to earlier, that type of connection is perhaps even more critical when it comes to the skip (Bonot) and the vice (McCormick). “The back end being siblings, they just have a different kind of vibe to them,” Gates suggested with a smile, referring to the northwestern Ontario brother-sister tandem.

“They know exactly what each other needs at the proper moment.”

What the curling world did not need, in northern Ontario or anywhere else for that matter, was to be dealing with quoted insurance rates that are almost four times as high as they were just two years ago, suggested Capreol Curling Club president Susanne Aylward. That’s precisely why the dedicated volunteer took her concerns to the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA).

“You’re going to end up forcing half the clubs to close,” said Aylward, who has seen her efforts garner considerable support, both through the help of local MPP France Gélinas, but also through NOCA Executive Director Bobby Ray and many others in the curling community.

“I felt like we had no choice but to pay it,” said Aylward, alluding to the bumping of rates by almost 50% a year ago or so. “But now, I’m not letting this go. There has to be something we can do.”

Aylward originally took her fight to the ombudsman, only to find out that this option effectively directed her right back to the same company that had provided the initial quote which was much higher than anticipated.

Though she has not yet received all of the answers she would like, the local woman is pleased that the cause does seem to be gaining some momentum, with more and more decision makers aware of the concerns of her club and countless others.

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