While the shuffling of lineups at the highest levels of curling might be precipitated by multiple factors, the single biggest element in play at the youth level involves the simple aging out process that occurs each and every year.
Count the 2023-2024 edition of Team Deschene among those who had to spend some time re-jigging their roster for the upcoming season as the Idylwylde Golf & Country quartet opens their schedule with an appearance at the U20 Imperial Slam in Dundas this weekend (the Toner junior women’s team representing NCUCC is also on hand for this event).
Sure, there is a more than casual acquaintance within the rink that will feature Ian Deschene (skip), Olivier Bonin-Ducharme (vice), Brayden Sinclair (second) and Connor Simms (lead – but calling the game), but the truth is that this weekend involves their first attempt at jumping into the deep end, so to speak.
“This tournament is our first set of full games together,” said Deschene, a 19 year-old Sudbury native who is attending Laurentian University in his first year of studies in Kinesiology. “We’ve practiced with each other but we haven’t gotten to play in a game, all four of us together.”
“With that in mind, we want to try and go as far as possible but the main thing is that we want to figure each other out, how we play and release the rock, stuff like that – but also what works as far as feedback. Basically, there will be lots of figuring out what is going to work best for everybody.”
To be fair, it’s not as though these are complete strangers – or anything close to that. The 2021 Best Western U21 Provincials in Timmins featured three men’s teams, with Bonin-Ducharme curling with the Samuel Branconnier entry, Deschene serving as vice for Brendan Rajala and Sinclair part of the Thunder Bay/Kakabeka Falls rink skipped by Dallas Burgess.
The 2022 U18 NOCA playdowns would find both Deschene and Sinclair in the field, with a third entry making the trip from Sault Ste Marie and skipped by Connor Simms. “We’ve known each other for a while and chemistry is such a big part of curling,” noted Bonin-Ducharme, a native of New Liskeard who is also at L.U., having played vice for Jake Horgan at the 2023 U Sports Championships hosted in Sudbury last March.
“To be on a team with people that you get along with is the name of the game – and we have like-minded goals.”
Deschene and Bonin-Ducharme are also teammates on the L.U. Voyageurs men’s team this year, while Simms attends Sault College and Sinclair also opted to stay home, moving on to post-secondary education at Confederation College in northwestern Ontario.
But that ability to cross paths in the relatively small world that is curling in northern Ontario was instrumental in ultimately providing these four gents a chance to take one more crack at earning a trip to nationals, with the 2024 New Holland Canadian Juniors set to return to Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo next March.
Ironically, it was in mixed doubles play, specifically at the Ontario Winter Games, that Deschene and Sinclair forged a stronger relationship, even as foes. “When he played not only against me but against other people, I was noticing how consistent and how well he was throwing runbacks and stuff like that,” said Deschene.
“That really caught my eye. We were lucky to be paired as roommates and from there, I started talking to him more and more.”
And for as much as Deschene and Bonin-Ducharme have gone toe to toe as opponents in Sudbury in recent years, this will be their first time as teammates, an option that becomes much more attractive when individual mindsets are aligned.
“We all have liked-minded goals,” said the talkative vice-skip. “Eventually, we want to focus on performance goals – but nationals is definitely attainable. Because this is our first time with everybody together, there will be some discussion this weekend with a chance to solidify our goals.”
“There’s no question that nationals is on the table,” added Bonin-Ducharme. “Exactly how far we expect to get from there, that’s something that remains to be discussed. But no matter what, we’ve got a solid team here so we will do well.”
One item that has been decided, at least for now, is the decision to allow Simms to call the games despite serving as lead, an unusual set-up but one which Ian Deschene appreciates. “I already know how he likes to call a game, his style, and I do like that,” said the graduate of Lockerby Composite.
“He plays it safe but doesn’t ignore big opportunities. Whenever we watch curling on TV, whatever they are calling, that’s what Connor is calling. He’s a really smart guy.”
Of course, having input from each and every member of the team can be particularly helpful when it comes to specific priorities, items that are critical to overall success. “We tend to geek out, for lack of a better term, on different aspects of the game,” suggested Bonin-Ducharme with a laugh.
“We tend to complement each other well when it comes to that. I love strategy, reading the ice, all of the sort of stuff; definitely the more technical aspects of curling.”
So as Team Deschene prepares for the Imperial Slam without the benefit of any experience playing on the sheets of ice at the Dundas Valley Golf & Country Club, the preparation might come in a couple of different forms.
“There’s some part of the whole scouting (the ice) thing that is important,” said Bonin-Ducharme. “You ask some people who have curled there, some people that are in the know – but really, the most important thing is to see how your release, how your slide, how your delivery plays out on the ice.”
“Everybody throws the rock a bit differently,” he added. “You can have as many conversations as you want, but the first few throws are the most important.”
For Team Deschene, those throws this weekend will come against Team Garner (Ottawa Hunt Club), Team McTavish (K-W Granite Club), Stockton (London Curling Club) and Team DiFranco (Ottawa Hunt Club) in round robin play while skip Mia Toner and company prepare to do battle with Team Parkinson (Dundas Valley), Team Brittain (North Grenville Curling Club), Team Madden (Rideau Curling Club) and Team Aucoin (Grimsby Curling Club).