To the casual fan of curling, the beginning of September might seem a touch early for us local media types to be diving in, head-first, to the story-lines and early season updates of the 2019-2020 schedule.
Yet stop and consider for a moment that it has now been more than a month since Tracy Fleury and her rink of Selena Njegovan, Taylor McDonald and Kristin MacCuish took part in the Hokkaido Bank Curling Classic in Japan.
By the time that next weekend rolls around, the bulk of the more competitive teams on a local front will already have at least one bonspiel appearance under their belts, despite the fact that local playable ice is still almost a full month away.
Unveiling his new Manitoba-based team of Colton Lott, Kyle Doehring and Tanner Lott, skip Tanner Horgan looked very much the part of a top-end national contender through pool play at the Cameron’s Brewing Oakville Fall Classic last weekend.
In fact, one would have to think that a tough 7-2 loss in the quarter-finals to the Swiss rink skipped by Yannick Schwaller isn't going to detract from preliminary round action in which the quartet maintained virtually complete control, from start to finish, of their matches.
Opening up a 3-0 lead after five ends, the Horgan foursome added three more in the seventh to put away Rob Ainsley of Toronto (6-1), and did likewise in taking a 3-2 lead after five against Kirk Muyres (Saskatoon), before scoring three in six en route to a 6-2 triumph.
The score-line looked eerily similar against Jason Camm (Ottawa) in game three, though it was a 1-1-3 run to open the game that separated Horgan and company from their opponents. In fact, it was only in facing a highly motivated Mark Kean (London) rink in their round robin finale that Horgan was still sweating in the final end.
With Team Kean sitting winless at 0-3, and the skip likely a little anxious to show well against his back end mate of 2018-2019 in Horgan, the game remained tight, tied at three after six. Confident and calm, the local rock-thrower iced the encounter scoring once with the hammer in the seventh and adding a steal in eight to finish as one of five teams at 4-0 in the field of 28.
“It’s just hard to be really consistent early on with a new team, that’s all that we are facing right now,” said Horgan. “Most of it is still learning to set the broom properly, learning everyone’s releases, and also judging the rock well too, learning how everyone throws it for weight, all the little things you would expect with new teammates.”
While Horgan was certainly aware, in a very general sense, of the skill sets of his new rink, there is clearly a more heightened awareness regarding exactly what each and every curler brings to the table when you multiply the time you spend together a hundred fold.
“The first thing I noticed is that everyone on this team has played back end or skipped before,” he said. “There’s a lot of knowledge and experience there to draw from. It comes out more at the team debriefs, but that’s one of our strengths, the depth on our team.”
Additionally, there is a greater appreciation for the ultra precise rock removal abilities of his new curling roster. “Colton and Kyle are just incredible hitters,” said Horgan. “Seeing it first hand, it’s quite something. In most ends, if we need a double peel, we have pretty much always gotten a double peel.”
“It’s an important skill to have, since it means that we can be a little more aggressive in games.”
Younger brother Jacob (Horgan) and his new crew of Scott Mitchell, Mitchell Cortello and Chase Dusessoy might very well get there too. While they would find themselves at the other end of the standings in Oakville, dropping four straight games, three of the battles were decided in the final two ends.
The junior men’s version of Team Horgan would book-end their weekend with setbacks to Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi of Japan (4-3) and American Todd Birr (5-4), with the Sudbury-based entry surrendering two in the final end in both of those losses.
A 2-2 tie after six against Jaap van Dorp of the Netherlands would finish 5-2 in favour of the Europeans, while an 8-0 defeat against Korey Dropkin (Chaska, Minnesota – USA) was truly the only affair in which Horgan and his mates were clearly outclassed.
And still on the theme of new teams becoming familiarized, the 2019-2020 edition of Team Brunton (Kira Brunton – skip; Lindsay Dubue – vice; Calissa Daly – second; Kate Sherry – lead) is also just starting to get their feet set under them, competing at the Stu Sells Open Women’s Tankard this weekend.
The U21 provincial entry, curling out of the Curl Sudbury, dropped a tough 3-2 decision to Megan Balsdon of Woodstock Thursday night, with their opponents breaking a 2-2 deadlock in the final end, with last rock advantage.
It was tougher sledding in game two, though it really came down to just one end versus Sophie Jackson from Scotland. With Jackson holding a 2-1 lead after three ends, the U.K. entry blew things wide open, putting five up on the board in the fourth and cruising to an 8-1 win.
Brunton was back in action in the late draw on Friday, facing Kaitlyn Jones of Toronto, and closing things out in the 18th and final draw Saturday evening against Isabella Wrana from Sweden.
Team Croisier (Bella Croisier, Jamie Smith, Piper Croisier, Emilie Lovitt, Lauren Rajala) have already hit the win column in Kitchener-Waterloo, as the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club U18 squad opened play at the U21 Royal Slam with a 6-5 win over Hannah Don from Oshawa.
The weekend of September 12th to the 15th is another busy one for locals, with Team Fleury in Cornwall for the Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic and the U15 Sudbury entry of Mia Toner, Valerie Ouimet, Emilie Glabb and Justine Toner in Kitchener-Waterloo for the U15 Phoenix Slam.
Sudbury Sidenotes: As far as other Sudbury connections of note, former OFSAA gold medal winner (Lockerby Composite) Evan Lilly is playing lead with the John Willsey rink from Waterloo, with former Horgans’ teammate Connor Lawes of North Bay throwing third stones for the group.
Former Laurentian Voyageur curler Ian Dickie is playing vice for the Pat Ferris rink from Grimsby, while Michelle McQuaid, younger sister of former Sudbury Wolves and Stanley Cup champion defenceman Adam McQuaid, is back with the Suzanne Birt rink from Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Finally, with a name that we have not mentioned in quite a while as Tracy Fleury will get a chance to meet up with one of her early junior curling teammates in Cornwall, as Stephanie Barbeau is on hand, playing with the Jenifer Harvey rink in their current hometown.