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Nationals that are finally happening for local curlers
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Oh, to be so young and philosophical.

Twice, between March of 2020 and the fall of 2021, Team Rajala earned a berth at the Canadian Under-18 Curling Championships. Twice, health considerations would keep the kids off the ice.

Come Monday at the Oakville Curling Club, Team Rajala (Brendan Rajala, Ian Deschene, Kyle Vainio, Jesse Crozier) will finally be able to check this one off the curling bucket list as Northern Ontario #2 battles Nova Scotia #2 (Nick Mosher) in the second draw of the event which brings together 42 of the top young curling teams in the land.

Yes, Curl Sudbury has two entries, with Team Toner (NO #1 – Mia Toner, Valérie Ouimet, Justine Toner, Clara Dissanayake) also donning the green and gold – but we’ve chatted about them at length already this winter.

No, this is a time for the lads to shine and enjoy the spotlight they’ve so patiently waited for.

“We just kept practicing through it all and whatever happened, happened,” said Rajala, the 16 year old skip of the team and younger brother to soon-to-be World Junior participant Lauren (Rajala). “We tried not to look forward too much to events because there was always that possibility that they got cancelled.”

“It’s just really nice to have curling back,” noted Deschene, a 17 year-old senior at Lockerby Composite. “It’s one of those things that we really look forward to doing. When it was taken away from us, I can say for myself that I was lacking something. Now that we get to go back, it’s a pretty big deal.”

Like the Rajala clan, curling is also a family affair within the Deschene homestead, older sister Abby having skipped many a team to victory over the course of the past decade or so. “I practiced with her a lot – she’s a really good curler – so I’ve been trying to replicate some of the stuff that she does and put it in my game,” said Ian.

“I find that it really helps me.”

The truth is that there are plenty of wonderful curling role models in the area, folks very willing to give of their time to raise the overall level of play in the nickel city. “I’m happiest with my sweeping; I feel like it has really improved,” said Crozier. “I’ve practiced with Tanner and Jake Horgan and they’ve really helped me out with technique and that kind of stuff.”

And on those rare occasions when what young curlers are looking for cannot be found in town, well, there’s an array of northern partners out there ready to step up and lend a hand.

Needing to fill one slot in their lineup last summer, Team Rajala turned their gaze in the direction of North Bay - long-time Team O’Bright/Team Hong lead Kyle Vainio, more specifically. “All of the guys on Team O’Bright were heading off to university; they’re all two or three years older than me when I was playing with them,” said Vainio.

“When they aged out; I was a bit lost. I still wanted to play competitively.”

In bringing this grade 12 student at Chippewa Secondary School aboard, the locals will benefit from the experience of someone who has actually attended the event previously, a member of the Northern Ontario team that participated at the 2019 bonspiel in Sherwood Park, Alberta.

“The main thing there is that everyone is watching you: media, parents, fans, coaches,” said Vainio. “You have to make sure that you are representing yourself, your team, your city, your club in the right way. And the competition up there is just a different breed. There are so many great curlers there; you can’t sweep anybody under the rug, for sure.”

As for the crew that will get their feet wet on a national scale for the first time next week, hope springs eternal, based in part on a very solid season of play, one in which one and all have clearly taken a step forward.

“We were pretty shaky at the start of the season, but we’ve come together nicely,” said Rajala. “I had doubts in my game calling at the beginning of the year, but now I am pretty confident in it. I think I’ve been fine-tuning my game, making those small differences.”

“We’ve played a lot of spiels, we’ve played a lot of competitions and we’re pretty good under pressure,” added Deschene. “We want to do the best that we can, make a name for ourselves.”

Philosophically speaking, that sounds like a very solid approach.

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