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Playoff battles heating up at U Sports - CCAA Curling playdowns

Just two days in and things are starting to get very interesting at the 2023 U Sports – CCAA Curling Championships at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex.

Looking to secure their third U Sports banner in the past seven years, the Laurentian Voyageurs women’s team could not have asked for a better start to their week.

The team of Bella Croisier, Piper Croisier, Abby Deschene, Julia Deklein and Katie Vanderloo are sitting at 4-0 following play Friday morning, including a couple of wins that they pulled right out of the fire. To boot, there is a five-team logjam at 2-2 behind them, giving the L.U. ladies a little bit of breathing room in terms of knowing that a playoff berth is all but assured with three round robin games remaining.

“We’ve stuck to our game plan and we’ve gotten a pretty good read on the ice,” said Deschene, a graduate of Lockerby Composite who captured an OFSAA championship while playing for the Vikings 2018 squad that also featured Sydnie Stinson, Jessica Leonard and Elizabeth Huska.

“We’re just trying to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

After posting a relatively comfortable 9-4 win on Wednesday over the Memorial Sea-Hawks, Deschene and company needed a steal of one in the extra end to slip past the UPEI Panthers (5-4) and then overcame a 4-1 deficit after four ends of play on Thursday to stop the Alberta Pandas 11-6, in a battle of teams that came in undefeated.

Top it off with a 5-4 nail-biter Friday morning over the Dalhousie Tigers in which Laurentian scored two with the hammer in the tenth for the win and you have the makings of a team that always feels that victory is a possibility. “We have all played quite a few games over the years, although maybe not together,” said Deschene.

“We’re pretty comfortable when the games are close that we will have a chance.”

And while there is a very good chance that larger crowds await the curlers come the weekend and the playoff games, Deschene remains thankful for the support the Voyageurs have received to date.

“It’s been really cool, especially our game against Alberta with quite a few Sudbury and Laurentian fans in the crowd,” she said. “I think it helps us; it gives you that extra adrenaline boost.”

That boost might be a little more necessary for the Laurentian Voyageurs’ men’s team, sitting at 2-1 and right in the middle of a critical matchup with the New Brunswick Reds (2-1) even as this column is being completed.

Laurentian dropped a 7-5 decision to the Alberta Bears on day one but enjoyed a fruitful Thursday, emerging triumphant from battles with both the St Mary’s Huskies (9-4) and Queen’s Gaels (8-4).

The Dalhousie Tigers are currently showing the way at 3-0, with four teams (including UNB and L.U.) just behind them at 2-1 and Queen’s another game back at 1-2. Winless through three games, it’s going to be tough sledding for both the St Mary’s Huskies (from Halifax) and the Calgary Dinos – but that still means that you have six teams legitimately vying for four playoff positions, with Laurentian still scheduled to play both Dalhousie and the OUA champion Laurier Hawks rink.

On the college (CCAA) side of things, there are a couple of realities that are clear: 1) the balance of varsity curling power resides either in Alberta (or perhaps BC) and Ontario; and 2) the equilibrium between those two regions differs notably when comparing the men and the women.

Showing the way in the eight team women’s field are skips Claire Randell and Gabriella Wood and their rinks donning the colours of the Niagara Knights (Ontario) and Concordia Thunder (Alberta) respectively. Both teams remain unbeaten with the head to head showdown set for the 12th draw on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

Silver medal winners the last time this event was held (Portage la Prairie, MB – 2020), the Humber Hawks (Meaghan Mallett) are still right there at 3-1, with Red Deer Polytechnical Queens (Kaylee Raniseth) currently holding down the final playoff spot (2-2) but with the SAIT Trojans (Bayly Scoffin), Augustana Vikings (Josie Zimmerman) and Fanshawe Falcons (Veronica Van Broekhoven) clearly still in the running.

It looks the schedule makers absolutely nailed it on the CCAA men’s side of things as the 3-0 tandem of the Humber Hawks (Jacob Dobson) and the Sault Cougars (Connor Simms) – with both teams already up by three in their respective fourth games early Friday afternoon – do not go toe to toe until the 13th and final draw for the lads.

Chasing the OCAA pair is another Ontario compatriot in the Mohawk Mountaineers, as well as Concordia University of Edmonton Thunder (both at 2-1), with both of the Alberta Technology Institutes tucked in one game back at 1-2.

And if the pending excitement of what still lies ahead with the university and college curlers wasn’t enough, there was the delivery of the final field for Mixed Doubles next week, a 32 team bracket that now features: Tracy Fleury/Jake Horgan; Jocelyn Peterman/Brett Gallant; Rachel Homan/Tyler Tardi; Jennifer Armstrong/Brad Jacobs; Lisa Weagle/John Epping; Kadriana Lott/Colton Lott; Clancy Grandy/John Morris and a whole host of others, with play set to begin on Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. and the final slatted for 1:00 p.m. on Sunday.

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