Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Birchard has title in her sights

Wants to make good in return trip to nats

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She'll play for herself and her team, of course.

And with a Bison on her back, she'll also play for Manitoba.

But there will also be someone else Shannon Birchard will be playing for when she takes to the ice this weekend in Fort McMurray, Alta., for the M&M Meat Shops Canadian Juniors -- the Birchard sibling who won't be playing.

"I'm definitely going to be taking that with me. We are definitely going to be trying to do this for them as well as ourselves," Birchard said Thursday.

A quick recap: While Shannon Birchard was winning her second straight Manitoba junior women's title last month, her brother Daniel was on the losing end of an epic junior men's final that the winner -- Matt Dunstone -- described as "a game for the ages."

"It was the best game I've ever been a part of," Dunstone said Thursday as he waited along with the Birchard team for a connecting flight in Calgary, "and the best game anyone on my team has ever been a part of."

After 12 gruelling ends that included a game-tying steal by Birchard in the 10th end, a rare 11th-end blank and then finally the game-winner by Dunstone in the 12th, Daniel Birchard found himself on the outside looking in even as his sister was winning an incredibly tight final of her own -- on a 10th end measure.

It was a heartbreaking loss for the previously undefeated Daniel, who also went undefeated at the provincial juniors in 2011 only to also lose that final.

His sister knows better than most how her brother must be feeling. While Shannon Birchard is now the two-time defending Manitoba junior champion, she also knows the heartache of a tough loss in a final.

Birchard went 10-2 and finished in first place in the round robin in her Canadian juniors debut last year, but then got shelled in a poorly played final, giving up a four-ender in the fourth end and then a steal of five in the very next end en route to a 12-6 loss to Alberta's Jocelyn Peterman.

"We were kicking ourselves after that game, just knowing that we could have played better," recalled Birchard. "But I've learned a lot from that final and we've gotten over the loss."

Only Birchard and lead Mariah Mondor are returnees from that team, with third Nicole Sigvaldason and second Sheyna Andries joining the team this year.

Dunstone, meanwhile, comes into this year's Canadian Juniors with no baggage and high expectations. His squad is young -- Dunstone and third Colton Lott are just 17, lead Brendan MacCuish is 18 and second Daniel Grant is 19 -- and with the exception of Lott, who played at last year's Canadian Juniors, they are rookies on the national stage.

Bring it on, says Dunstone.

"We have high expectations for ourselves," he said. "We expect to do well," said Dunstone. "If we take it game by game and just control the things that we can control, I think things will work out for us.

"Our confidence is through the roof right now after what we went through in that final."

While his team has designs on winning a national championship and advancing to represent Canada at the world juniors in Sochi, Russia in March, Dunstone said at least as important over the next nine days is the way his team plays in Alberta.

"If we don't play well and don't win it, we'll be disappointed. But if we play well and don't win, I think there will still be some satisfaction."

Nunuvut at nationals

Manitoba's Shannon Birchard and Matt Dunstone will be a part of what will be a history-making Canadian juniors in Fort McMurray.

For the first time ever, teams from Nunavut will compete at this year's event, with David Kakuktinniq's team from Rankin Inlet playing in the men's draw and Sadie Pinksen's Iqaluit team competing on the women's side.

With the addition of an extra team, the 14-team event is also being split into two round-robin pools of seven teams each, seeded based on cumulative win-loss records over the last three years.

The round robin begins Saturday and leads up to a championship pool, which begins next Wednesday and finally concludes with the weekend playoff draws.

TSN will broadcast the men's final next Saturday and the women's final next Sunday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2013 C5

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