This city has witnessed many an outstanding youth curling rivalry over the course of time.
While many pre-date my involvement in covering the winter pastime, I can vividly recall the early days of the Tracy Horgan/Amanda Gates high school battles, giving way to countless other variations, including, most recently, the titanic tug of war between Team Brunton and Team Croisier for NOCA junior women's supremacy.
No reason to act terribly surprised then as the Churchill Chargers and St Pierre Panthères were back in familiar territory at the very end of the Elementary Curling Bonspiel last weekend at Curl Sudbury. The tables were turned in a rematch of the 2018 championship affair.
“Last year, we lost by a lot,” noted Churchill skip Brendan Rajala. “This year, we were down by four in the first end. But then we took two, stole two, stole two again, so we were up 6-4. Then we made a key shot to steal another one, a hit and roll. They would have gotten four.”
“We just tried to keep them down in the last end. They scored two, but we won 7-6.”
There was no lack of gold medal encounter experience on hand for this contest as St Pierre returned virtually an identical roster to one year ago (Mia Toner-skip; Jesse Crozier-vice; Emilie Glabb-second; Justine Toner-lead), while Churchill graduated just one regular, boasting a 2019 lineup of Brendan Rajala, Nathan Radey, Emma Salvati and Caitlin Slavinski.
The younger brother of Team Croiser lead Lauren (Rajala), the competitive skip of the Chargers noted a somewhat different strategy as he returned for another shot at this title this winter. “Last year, I was putting up more guards than usual,” said (Brendan) Rajala. “But then I realized that some of the curlers can't do takeouts, so I threw a clean game and put a lot of shots in the house, except for the last couple of games, where I had to put up guards.”
In fact, strategy would come into play with a couple of different facets of the Churchill game for coach Sandy MacEwan, including positional movement based on the throwing tendencies of a few team members. “I played vice and lead,” noted 11 year old grade 6 student Nathan Radey.
“At the start, they asked me what position I wanted to play and I just chose lead. But then I got switched to vice halfway through the year. I think it was just because I was throwing heavier for my guards than what I was supposed to. The girls are really good at setting up guards for our skip. They're not whipping it past the lines.”
Now in his third year of curling, Radey has noted an increased comfort level with his game, even if not quite at the level of the club curlers who populate some of the rosters at the event. “I've been getting better, because my team has given me tips, and I have more experience,” he said “I think just coming out of the hack is where I have improved the most.”
“I just try and go as close as I can to the broom. My weight is not usually the greatest, so I am learning to get my weight right. I always have to shoot it either a bit lighter or a bit heavier.” Semi-final action would see St Pierre defeat Marymount “A”, while Churchill stopped Carl Nesbitt Public School.
The annual bonspiel attracted a total of 16 teams, including entries from St-Augustin, Algonquin, St Charles, Macdonald-Cartier, Confederation, Hanmer and Notre-Dame de la Merci. St Pierre did walk away with one additional consolation prize, emerging as champions of the skills competition (each players throws two draws to the button).
From the ultra young to the not so young as the NOCA Senior Championships continue through to Sunday at the Port Arthur Curling Club in Thunder Bay. With six draws in the books, the top end of the men's eight team field is engaged in quite the horse race.
A huge 8-2 win over former world champion Al Hackner (Fort William CC) Friday morning had seemingly put the Curl Sudbury rink of Robbie Gordon (skip), Ron Henderson (vice), Dion Dumontelle (second) and Doug Hong (lead) in very good shape to secure no worse than a berth in the tie-breakers.
Unfortunately, a 6-5 extra end loss to Floyd Hopson of the McIntyre/Timmins later the same day has now set up a winner take all Saturday morning battle with Tim Warkentin of Keewatin in the seventh and final draw. Currently, the Hackner quartet are showing the way in the standings with a record of 5-1, with both Gordon and Warkentin at 4-2.
Hackner must face Hopson in draw seven, but even a loss there would leave him no worse than tied for first place with the winner of the Gordon/Warkentin tilt. Earlier action saw Team Gordon blank Roger Sauvé of Coniston (7-0), before being saddled with a loss, courtesy of Kent Maarup of the host club (5-4).
No worries for the quartet that has represented the north on several occasions in the past decade, as Gordon and company bounced back with victories over Chris Gordon of Copper Cliff (11-2), Patrick Chartier of the Idylwylde (8-2) and Hackner (as noted above).
Once that event is in the books, all eyes will shift to Prince Albert (Saskatchewan), site of the 2019 New Holland Canadian Junior Curling Championships. The Northern Ontario men's team of Tanner Horgan, Max Cull, Jacob Horgan and Maxime Blais will open with games against Nova Scotia on Saturday, and P.E.I and New Brunswick the next day, while the women's foursome of Kira Brunton, Megan Smith, Sara Guy and Kate Sherry face Alberta on day 1, and Saskatchewan (host) and Nunavut on Sunday.
Some big curling news locally, albeit with much still to be decided, as some structural issues with the roof at the Coniston Curling Club have forced the group to temporarily close down the facility. With an emergency membership meeting set for Saturday and an engineer's report with possible options due early next week, the CCC executive is looking to provide more clarity to the course of action, moving forward, by the time our next column appears on January 26th.