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Tuesday night league helps sort out the world of local curling

Maybe, just maybe, the Tuesday night "All Sorts League" really is the place where curlers go to sort out exactly which team they will be playing with the following year.

Making a visit, quite truthfully, to simply catch up with a handful of the individual curlers who have not been among my profiled teams to date, I was surprised to find that the new roster for 2019-2020 was easily the theme of the night within this small sampling group.

Some of this was necessitated by age.

"Last year, my coach and my second moved to Montreal," recalled 15 year old former skip Tyler Smith. "I had curled with Pat (Patrick Labrosse), who is the vice on the team, about four years ago, before we got into competitive, so I've always known them, and I knew that one of their players was aging out, so I just asked around and they had a spot for me."

So with just a slight re-shuffling of the roster, the 2019-2020 edition of Team Branconnier was now comprised of Samuel Branconnier (skip), Patrick Labrosse (vice), Tyler Smith (second), and a lead tandem of Alex Rheaume and Sebastien Whissell.

With sights set on both provincials and Ontario Winter Games qualifiers, Smith and his new crew are into a heavy stretch of practice times at their home rink (Idylwylde Golf & Country Club), with the grade ten student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School settling nicely into his new role.

"It's obviously been quite a bit different, with sweeping and all that, but I didn't consider myself to be in terribly bad shape before, so it wasn't too hard of an adjustment," said Smith. "It's been a fun adjustment, a little less stressful, which I've enjoyed."

Some of the shuffling would bring together different waves of age.

"I'm curling with a new team, a young, young team, so I'm the old lady," said Amanda Gates, with a laugh. At 33 years of age, she's a long way from the seniors circuit. But teamed, this year, with the likes of Krysta Burns, Sara Guy and Megan Smith and preparing for a run at provincials (Scotties), Gates adds a somewhat different element to this intriguing team.

"I find that mostly, for me, I am doing a lot of the off-ice stuff for them, the stuff that when they were in juniors, the parents would take care of - booking hotels, planning, a lot of the off-ice management stuff," said Gates. "I'm playing lead for them, so if I can take all of that stress off them and they can just go out and play well, I'm quite alright with that."

"They are obviously very accomplished curlers, with national titles," she added. "I think it's going to be great, with that mix of youth and my experience with pressure situations. I'm excited to see how it goes."

Some have simply reached an age where priorities must be flip-flopped.

"It was actually really tough for me to decide to step back, but I realized that in the end, law school is what I really wanted to do, and I knew that I would not be able to balance studying for LSAT's, keeping my grades up and doing competitive curling, being gone every weekend," explained Mikaela Cheslock.

The net result, for the 21 year old third year Labour Studies and Law & Justice student at Laurentian University, is also an Open Ladies partnership that will see Cheslock, Emma Johnson, Alyssa Denyer and Camille Daly bypass any bonspiel play en route to the NOCA Scotties Provincials in the new year.

"We've kind of taken the stance that if we work hard, during our practices and our weekly league night, we're still going to get the same kind of practice, but we're not going to overwork ourselves," Cheslock added. "The other three girls are in their last year at Laurentian, so it's tough on them - they have a lot going on."

For some, age is but a number, even if it's a tad off-kilter with the remainder of the foursome.

Fifteen year old Zoe Valliere has stepped in to fill a void on the U21 rink of Abby Deschene, Alyssa McVittie and Emilie Brock. While the grade ten student at Lo-Ellen Park gives away a few years to the remainder of her team, who are all at university, she is comfortable that she has the drive to step in and help out.

"Every time I go out there, I want to push myself to get something done that's different at practice," said Valliere. "I love curling mostly because it's such a big team sport, but at the same time, it's a competition with yourself."

"I love to see my progress."

Still, little did she anticipate this particular call-up. "Abby's little brother, Ian, actually curls with me quite often," noted Valliere. "She (Abby) was always out watched me curl, so she approached me about going to K-W (Kitchener-Waterloo) with them. I thought it was crazy, I didn't think they would want me."

Still, as so many in the competitive curling scene are well aware, it is simply the crossing of the paths that form the genesis of many a new entry, especially in the years of young adulthood, where career and family and life will tend to move folks all over the province.

"I met Abby (Deschene) at Curl Sudbury, working there, and I know Megan (Megan St Amand) through college curling, we went to nationals at the same time," outlined Kimberley Headley, a native of Aurora who moved north a couple of years ago, with curling the common thread in most of her Sudbury connections.

The outlined background above created yet another entry in the Provincial Scotties field, with Deschene, Headley, St Amand and Melissa Begin forming something of a Sudbury - Sault Ste Marie quartet. There is a kindred spirit, with regards to their approach to a sport that, in their youth, took up much of their free-time hours.

"I love curling for fun, but I like the satisfaction of winning, and everything that comes with competitive curling."

And that is something that Dustin Montpellier, who joined up this year with the team of Sandy MacEwan, Luc Ouimet and Lee Toner, has already experienced.

"I think for our first season together, it's already been a success," said Montpellier, the earliest of the arrivals at the Idylwylde on Tuesday night, a good half hour or more before game time. "We made it to a semi-final, we won one tournament, my first one ever. Even the event we were at last weekend, we didn't qualify for the playoffs, but we played well, very close to qualifying."

A long-time skip, Montpellier has found the move to vice very much to his liking, a shift that has been made easier given the ability of MacEwan to thrive as the thrower of the final rocks. "I think skip is the right position for him," said Montpellier.

"Just his shot-making and being cool uynder pressure. He's made a lot of big shots at the right moments for us, and he's made shots that has kept us in games. As for strategy, we are very much on the same page, and he's very open as a skip, very accepting of our feedback."

"There's been nothing but positives so far," added Montpellier.

And for all of the new lineups unveiled this fall, that's about all one can ask for.

Northern Ontario AAA Hockey League