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Three local rinks at U21 Canadian Curling Championship

While there have been no lack of local entries traditionally to the national junior curling championships, the presence of three rinks representing the Northern Credit Union Community Centre at the New Holland Canadian U21 Curling Championships beginning Sunday in Fort McMurray (Alberta) is an absolute first.

Joining the women’s team of Mia Toner (skip), Britney Malette (vice), Justine Toner (second), Clara Dissanayake (lead), Karli Hicklin (alternate) and coach Lee Toner are the clubmates comprising Team Rajala (Brendan Rajala – skip; Jackson Dubinsky – vice; Jesse Crozier – second; Adam Wiersema – lead; coach Brian Rajala) and Team Deschene (Ian Deschene – skip; Olivier Bonin-Ducharme – vice; Brayden Sinclair – second; Connor Simms – lead; coach Jeff Masters).

While the Rajala quartet enter the event as NOCA champions, both the Toner and Deschene squads are among the multitude of second provincial slots now granted, with no less than 18 teams taking part in the festivities on both the boys and girls’ draws. The Kakabeka Falls rink skipped by Claire Dubinsky find themselves as the top seed from Northern Ontario thanks to their victory in New Liskeard last month.

Fresh off an all-star performance at U Sports Curling Championships in Fredericton as lead of the Laurentian Voyageurs women’s entry, Thunder Bay native Britney Malette is back to more familiar territory as she handles back end duties with Mia Toner.

“Well, I hadn’t played lead in a long time so that was a bit of a change,” noted the second year student in Behavioural Neuro Science. “I just went out and played with confidence. It helped that I came out of the gate very strongly (she curled 91% in game 1 of the playdowns) and kept the momentum rolling.”

A 20 year-old who ages out after this competition, Malette is in her first year with Team Toner, replacing Collège Notre-Dame graduate Valerie Ouimet on a crew that is well-known for their congeniality. “They are just very welcoming,” said Malette. “I didn’t feel any awkwardness at all with the girls – and their confidence in me and my abilities helped make the transition a lot smoother.”

Though they will take to the ice as the NOCA silver medal recipients, this well-decorated crew are well-armed with the belief that they have what it takes to contend in Fort Mac. “I think we are going in the same way we would if we were the number one seed,” said Malette. “We believe, as a team that had the ice conditions been a little different at provincials that we could have been the top-seeded team.”

And for as much as she can draw parallels between the U Sports and U21 bonspiels, Malette did note an interesting contrast from her experience at countless NOCA events. “I feel like the two nationals will be pretty similar in that they are both very competitive, but off the ice, not as much,” she said.

“I find at the provincials, the teams don’t mingle as much. There are always going to be teams that annoy you by something they do on the ice, but it’s always nice to meet different people from different provinces at nationals.”

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