While their family, friends and a beaming coach looked on, Manitoba's Braden Calvert team closed their dream run as new Canadian junior curling champions.
In a Sunday afternoon match broadcast across the country, Calvert, third Kyle Kurz, second Lucas Van Den Bosch and lead Brendan Wilson settled into the arena ice to curl out a 7-5 win over New Brunswick's Rene Comeau. With the victory, the foursome kept the Canadian championship in Manitoba's hands, defending the title won by West Kildonan skip Matt Dunstone last year.
'I'm still in a little bit of shock I think. It's been quite the ride, and I think a lot of practice and hard work to get here'
So capped a tremendous Canadian run for the foursome, which upset Dunstone in the provincial final last month and then reeled off eight straight victories to open the national round robin. In the minutes after the final victory, the whole journey didn't quite seem real.
"I'm still in a little bit of shock I think," Calvert said over the phone from Liverpool, N.S. "It's been quite the ride, and I think a lot of practice and hard work to get here."
The final wasn't always a pretty game, as both teams winced from misses and rallied to recover from mistakes. But the Calvert rink had set themselves up to cash in big on Comeau's most painful miss -- a play that proved to be the biggest difference.
The teams were tied at two in the fourth, with Comeau holding the hammer. With his final throw, the New Brunswick skip was facing four of the Manitobans' yellow rocks, and might have drawn for a single. Instead, with the teams still hunting to find their draw weight, Comeau opted to try a hit. But his rock flashed straight through the house, handing Calvert a four-point steal and a 6-2 lead.
After a cautious first three ends, Calvert was surprised to see Comeau call for a hit -- and even more surprised when it missed. "If he throws that again, he's going to make it perfect," Calvert said. "We got a little bit of a break there... I definitely think the momentum shifted there in the fourth end."
Still, it wasn't an easy win for them. The New Brunswick rink regrouped from the devastating miss and mounted a comeback, closing the gap to 6-5 after seven ends. Calvert responded with a single in the eighth. But the win perhaps finally hinged on a beauty shot from third Kurz, who used his first rock of the ninth end to make a perfect double-kill that stymied Comeau's hopes for a game-tying deuce.
"Kyle's just been making doubles like that all week," Calvert said of the shot call. "I really expected him to make it, and he just threw it wonderfully."
After running Comeau out of rocks in the final end, the Manitobans rushed towards the stands to celebrate with their parents, all of whom flew to Nova Scotia for the tournament. Among them was Lynn Kurz, who coached the team through their thrilling provincial win, then stepped aside for Tom Clasper so that she could enjoy the nationals as a parent.
So while TSN cameras rolled, Calvert's first words as Canadian champion were shared with his dad. "It was unreal," said Calvert, a first-year University of Manitoba agriculture student. "He taught me how to curl right when I was just starting to walk, and it was an unbelievable feeling to share that moment with him. He just said, 'good job son,' I think we were still in a little bit of shock at that point."
Another feather in the Manitoban team's cap: Van Den Bosch was named to the tournament's first all-star team, on the back of his 81 per cent shooting record. On the women's side at the 2014 M&M Meat Shops Canadian Junior Championships, Manitoba's Meaghan Brezden finished 5-5 in the round robin, and did not advance to the playoffs.