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Nitty-gritty time

Junior curlers reach playoff showdowns

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The once fuzzy playoff picture has become crystal clear at the Canola Junior Provincial Championships for curling in Portage la Prairie, and it involves a mix of old and new.

For the old, Matt Dunstone and his West Kildonan Curling Club team of Colton Lott, Daniel Grant and Brendan MacCuish completed a flawless 7-0 round robin with their 7-1 win over J.T. Ryan on Monday. Dunstone is trying to become the first skip since Daley Peters to win back-to-back provincial titles. Peters completed that feat in 2004-05.

Dunstone has shown his provincial competitors why he is a World Junior Curling Championship bronze medallist, too. He and his team have handily won all but one of their games in less than 10 ends. It's given the team confidence moving forward, but is also making them cautious.

"We're almost wishing we've had those 10-end games, because we haven't had that experience in a super-tight game yet where we might have to make a big shot in the 10th end," Dunstone said.

While Dunstone seeks back-to-back Buffalo titles, there are others on the women's side seeking their first provincial title. And for Meagan Brezden, it will be her last chance.

Brezden, of the Granite Curling Club, is turning 21 and in her final year of junior. She'll get the chance to finish her junior career on a high note, after securing first place in the black group with a 5-2 record.

Even though the Brezden team didn't crack the top-five in the seedings, they are not being taken lightly. They defeated high-seeded teams Kristy Watling and Rachel Burtnyk in their final two games of the round robin. The wins turned out to be quite important, too. All three teams finished with 5-2 records, but Brezden was awarded top spot because she defeated the others in round-robin play.

Brezden and her team of Abby Ackland, Danielle Lafleur and Nikki Boulet led Burtnyk 5-3 after seven ends in the final game, and cracked a steal of two in the eighth to secure the top seed and gain an opportunity to advance to the finals in the 1 vs. 1 playoff game late Monday night.

"It's awesome. I don't think it's really set in yet," she said.

Locking up the top spot was no easy feat, and Brezden believes any junior women's team can beat the other on any given day, but this just happened to be their week.

"I wouldn't say we played way better than everyone else. It just kind of depends. But a little luck on your side never hurts either," she said.

Brezden's team is peaking at the right time, too. The team won a berth bonspiel in November to qualify for provincials and has taken that momentum with them into Portage la Prairie.

"We're all really close on and off the ice, so I would say our strong point is that we don't give up. We're able to talk each other through it and give each other confidence through teamwork," she said.

AWARDS: The Susan Galbraith Junior Men's and Women's Sportsmanship awards were handed out in Portage la Prairie on Monday afternoon. Brezden received the award for the women and Curtis Kaatz, second for Cole Peters, received the men's award. The CurlManitoba Asham Coaching Excellence awards were given to Jim Watling of the Kristy Watling team and Wilf Peters of the Cole Peters team.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2013 D4

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