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Hometown support will be key for Voyageurs curling teams

Over the course of the last six years that the U Sports women’s curling championship banner has been awarded, only two schools in the country have laid claim to the honour – one of those being the Laurentian Voyageurs.

Yes, the local team has every reason to be optimistic about the U Sports – CCAA Curling Championships that kickoff Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex.

Of course, while the Voyageurs have captured the Canadian university title on two occasions (2019 – Krysta Burns; Megan Smith; Alyssa Denyer, Emma Johnson, Mikaela Cheslock; 2017 – Krysta Burns; Megan Smith; Sara Guy; Laura Masters), the remaining four titles have headed west to the home of the University of Alberta Golden Bears – who also happen to be in attendance in the eight team field this week – so there is that.

“We’re pretty excited, to say the least,” noted Laurentian head coach Ryan Lafraniere, the former varsity curler who will guide both teams into action this week with a helping hand from decorated local coach Jan Pula. “It’s not often that you get to compete at a national championship in front of your hometown fans.”

“We’re hoping that a lot of folks are able to come out and watch.”

Pragmatics first and foremost - the Laurentian Voyageurs teams will feature the following curlers:

Laurentian women: Bella Lehtimaki-Croisier; Piper Lehtimaki-Croisier; Abby Deschene; Julia Deklein; Katie Vanderloo
Laurentian men: Jake Horgan; Olivier Bonin-Ducharme; Derek Leung; Samuel Branconnier; Owen Allard
L.U. coaches: Ryan Lafraniere – head coach – both teams; Jan Pula – assistant coach – both teams

Balance of women’s field: Alberta Golden Bears; McMaster Marauders; Dalhousie Tigers; Memorial Sea-Hawks (Newfoundland); Prince Edward Island Panthers; Toronto Metropolitan University Bold; Victoria Vikes

Balance of men’s field: Alberta Golden Bears; Calgary Dinos; Dalhousie Tigers; New Brunswick Reds; Queen’s Golder Gaels; Saint Mary’s Huskies (Nova Scotia); Wilfrid Laurier Hawks

Set-up is one eight team bracket with teams playing a full round robin and top four advancing to the semi-finals (same format applies for the CCAA competition – more on that later).

Beyond having a pair of national championships already to their credit, the Laurentian women enter the event as OUA silver medal winners, advancing to the provincial final a few weeks back before dropping a 4-3 decision to McMaster in the final in Oshawa.

Still, with returnees Abby Deschene (second) and Julia Deklein (lead) welcoming aboard a revamped back end in the form of the Croisier sisters, results are more than a little encouraging, something the newcomer to Sudbury credits in part to the off-ice discussions that go into creating just the right environment for success to occur.

“We have a sports psychologist; Ryan (Lafraniere) is really into the mental aspect of the game; so is Jan (Pula); I am into that – we have a whole lot of people that are into the mental side of the game,” laughed Deklein, a native of Mossley (ON – 15 minutes outside of London), currently in her third year of Sports Psychology – quite fittingly.

“We have been able to have a lot of really god conversations, kind of getting to where we need to be for the goals that we wanted to set.”

Starting in curling at the age of seven alongside her twin sister Emily, Deklein ramped up the competition component around grade ten, then based out of the London Curling Club. While her pre-Laurentian background on the ice generally involved playing typically as vice, the soon-to-be 21 year-old has embraced her role as a second, for the 2021-2022 campaign, and now as lead.

“I was really nervous (initially) throwing lead stones,” she said. “The lead has got to set up the game and if they don’t set up the game, you’re behind the whole time. But having a new role that was less about watching ice and watching paths was actually better for me because then I could kind of be there more for the people on my team, because I am more of a people person.”

While the L.U. men may not have medalled at provincials, a 2-2 record posted in Peterborough for a team that went without the services of both Horgan and Bonin-Ducharme at the event (both were busy competing at the provincial Mixed Doubles playdowns – a bonspiel at which Horgan and sister Tracy Fleury claimed gold) leaves all Voyageurs’ curlers more than a little anxious to hit the ice on Wednesday.

“Both teams are kind of in the same boat in terms of trying to make the playoffs in front of the hometown fans,” said Lafraniere, who has gone to painstaking lengths to ensure that his rinks are more than ready to tackle the added distraction of competing at home.

“We have done a tremendous job of planning, in terms of what our days will look like, when we are going to pre-game, when we are going to debrief, how are we going through our pre-game practice – even what are we eating,” said the young man who attended the 2004 Canadian Junior Curling Championships in Victoria as a member of the Jamie Morphet rink (along with Paul Arkilander and Matt Dumontelle).

“All of those little things go a long way towards controlling the controllables,” added Lafraniere. “I think we are in a good position to be able to go out and perform.

The women will kick things off Wednesday at 5:00 p.m., taking on the Memorial Sea-Hawks while the men face an Alberta Bears program at 9:00 p.m. that has accounted for three of the past nine U Sports gold medal winning men’s teams.

Finally, though the Cambrian College Golden Shield do not compete in curling, there are no less than 16 teams from across the country ready to battle it out for college curling supremacy, with the breakdown as follows:

Women’s Field: University of Alberta Augustana Vikings; Concordia University of Edmonton Thunder; Fanshawe Falcons (London, ON), Humber Hawks (Toronto), Niagara Knights (ON), Red Deer Polytechnic Queens; SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) Trojans; Sault College Cougars

Men’s Field: University of Alberta Augustana Vikings; Humber Hawks (Toronto); Concordia University of Edmonton Thunder; NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) Ooks; Fleming Knights (Peterborough, ON); Mohawk Mountaineers (Hamilton, ON); Sault College Cougars; SAIT Trojans

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