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Blanchette and Beland out front at Capreol Curling Club
2020-02-02

"I curled in North Bay, I curled in Kapuskasing, I curled in Iroquois Falls."

And for the past 16 years, long-time banker (in his pre-retirement days) Bernie Beland has called Capreol Curling Club home.

And he's not alone.

On Tuesday nights, he and his rink are one of ten teams battling it out in the men's circuit, with roughly half that grouping back at it again on Thursday nights in the quaint northern Ontario railway town.

Ironically, Beland's men's team does enjoy a connection that dates back to his introduction to the Capreol Club, 16 years ago, a time when he and his wife curled in the mixed league alongside Andre Henri and his wife.

Though the mixed ritual is no longer a weekly occurrence, Henri and Beland have remained a constant within the men's scene, the current incarnation of their team welcoming the father and son duo of Mike Bertrand (4 years) and T.J. Bertrand (second year).

"None of us are perfect, we're here to have fun," said Beland, preparing to take the ice for the late draw. "On any given night, in this league, anybody can beat anybody. I'm not getting any better, but I hope I'm not getting any worse."

It doesn't look like it. As the second half of the schedule kicked off, the Beland rink could boast a record of 8-2, trailing only the Greg Blanchette foursome (9-1), but with both Bruce Riddle and Stu Thomas looking to close the gap, at 6-4.

Considering the younger Bertrand (T.J.) joined the team with no curling experience whatsoever, this team has progressed nicely, after remaining in contention one year ago. Still, Beland suggested the words of wisdom from those who continue to take to the ice three times a week, despite having just celebrated his 70th birthday, were kept to a minimum.

"You'll learn as you go - and be careful about not falling down," said Beland with a smile. "A lot of the newcomers come out with a partial slider, a grip-on. After a couple of months, last year, T.J. got good curling shoes, and that makes a 1000% difference in your slide. I am amazed at how quickly he picked up the sport."

And while Beland is more than content to simply be out with the boys at the local club, it hasn't meant that he could not draw a thing or two from those who toil at the national level. "I've followed curling quite a bit on TV, for years and years and years," he said. "I don't think you can learn the game without watching the professionals play."

"We can't emulate the shots that they do, especially the long hits, but the strategy and understanding why the rock reacts in a certain way, that really helps."

If there is a team to draw from on the Tuesday night men's league in Capreol, it is surely the Greg Blanchette quartet that includes first year vice Ron Brunet, as well as regular front-enders, Bob Paquette and Mike Auger.

With at least some background in a more competitive setting, Blanchette and company continue to throw their hat in the ring when it comes to the Curling Club Championship stream, the former Dominion playdowns. It's also why Beland made note that for the first time ever, his team managed to take a win away from Blanchette in league play during the 2018-2019 season.

"We need to have a chance to curl together to be organized when it comes to regionals," explained Blanchette, now 55 years of age and a Capreol mainstay for almost his entire curling career, since first taking up the sport when the former Capreol High School was searching desperately for a skip, well back in the day.

"This is kind of a practice, a stepping stone for us. We try and curl as though we are curling at the regionals. We don't change our game strategy. We try and stay the same, no matter which teams we play against."

Having moved over to the Idylwylde for a brief period of time during his thirties, testing himself against the Sudbury elite, Blanchette carries a wonderful perspective with the challenge of trying to fine-tune your game, in a setting that lends itself far more to the simply recreational types.

"When curlers are younger, they get coaching," he noted. "The coaches watch everything to a "T". There's no coaching here. If the person is having a hard time with a certain turn, or certain draw weight, we might concentrate more on that. But it's one of your teammates that might notice something."

The Blanchette rink will be one of five teams in action on the weekend of February 7th - 9th, when the Capreol Curling Club plays host to Club Regionals.

That follows directly on the heels of the big prize in New Liskeard, this week, as teams continue to battle it out for the right to represent the NOCA at both the Brier and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

No big surprises through seven draws at the Don Shepherdson Memorial Arena, as both pre-event favourites remain undefeated. In men's play, the Brad Jacobs rink (Marc Kennedy, E.J. Harnden, Ryan Harnden) are not only sitting at 5-0, but have yet to win a game by less than five, as they look to secure a berth in the Sunday final.

Despite dropping an 8-3 decision to Team Jacobs on Friday morning, skip Sandy MacEwan and the Curl Sudbury crew of Dustin Montpellier, Lee Toner and Luc Ouimet are well-positioned, sitting second at 4-1, with Ryan Sayer (Horne Granite) and Jordan Chandler (Little Current) both at 3-2.

A quirk in the women's schedule, with a seven team grouping, finds the Krysta Burns Idylwylde rink (Megan Smith, Sara Guy, Amanda Gates) showing at the top of the standings (4-1), partially due to the fact that Krista McCarville and company (Kendra Lilly, Ashley Sippala, Jennifer Gates, Sarah Potts) will be squeezing three games into a 22-hour stretch, beginning last night at 7:30 p.m.

Still with local connections, Tracy Fleury and her rink of Selena Njegovan, Liz Fyfe and Kristin MacCuish take a 4-0 record into their Friday match with Beth Peterson, while Jennifer Jones is also undefeated (4-0) in the other pool.

Meanwhile, Tanner Horgan and his new team of Colton Lott, Kyle Doehring and Tanner Lott are one of no less than 32 teams gathering in Winnipeg, from February 4th to the 9th, site of the Viterra Provincial Curling Championships.

Sunday Update: The provincial Scotties final will feature Krysta Burns facing Krista McCarville, while the Brier qualifier sees Brad Jacobs up against Mike Badiuk of Geraldton.

Dairy Queen - Sudbury - Kingsway / Val Caron