For a decade or so, Justin Stanus chased after a men's provincial curling championship berth, always coming up a little flat or a game too short.
Not anymore. Now, with a revamped team riding a little fresh chemistry, the Winnipeg skip is preparing to make his first appearance at the Safeway Championship.
'When we shook hands it was a big relief, it was like a monkey off my back'
The Stanus foursome punched their ticket to the January spiel after rolling through weekend's playdowns, becoming one of 18 rinks to qualify in regional competition. They clinched their spot with a 5-3 victory over Trevor Loreth on Saturday, one of five teams to earn berths out of Winnipeg.
"When we shook hands it was a big relief, it was like a monkey off my back." Stanus said on Monday. "Finally, we did it. We played very well, and all four of us we were just so focused."
It's been a long time coming for Stanus, who curls out of Fort Rouge Curling Club. At 35, he's spent most of his life gliding down the sheet, and he's faced the tough teams many times before. Curling is, after all, a very small world.
"We're used to playing the teams that we played this weekend, we just usually didn't come out in top," he said. This time, his team did, and securing the Safeway berth is their biggest achievement of the year.
This sort of performance is what Stanus was hoping for when he rejigged his rink for this year, bringing in Justin Twiss at lead and Josh Drews at third, while Stanus' longtime teammate Nolan Bradshaw slid into second. They played around the Manitoba Curling Tour circuit, often turning up well but not yet winning anything of note. So coming into the weekend's playdowns they were a little daunted, but decided to give it their best shot.
"We looked at the draw at the beginning of the weekend and we thought, boy, we have, in our minds, the toughest draw we could have had," said Stanus, who works as a project manager at Honeywell when he's not calling shots. "But I didn't want to let stats or the past haunt me. I just figured we're in control of the way we play."
Now, Stanus and the 17 other teams that cemented a spot in the regional playdowns will look ahead to the Safeway Championship, which kicks off Jan. 29 at the MTS Iceplex. The big guns had already earned their berths, including defending champion Jeff Stoughton, Mike McEwen and Rob Fowler.
In the women's provincial championships, though, one big name is missing: After earning the right to represent Canada at the Sochi Olympics, Jennifer Jones won't be in Virden next month for the Tournament of Hearts. Instead, the berth she vacated is up for grabs in a special game at Portage Curling Club tonight, where veteran Maureen Bonar will face Fort Garry's Quinn Sneison for the final Scotties spot.
It will be a "bittersweet" game for Sneison, who threw third for Bonar before taking a five-year hiatus from competitive curling. That break ended just this year, when Sneison and her sisters, Megan Adams and Leigh Douglas, teamed up with second Shawna Schimnowski to give it another whirl. "We were finally at a place in our life where we could commit to a couple of weekends," said Sneison, 31.
At first, they tip-toed back into the curling world, signing up for Thursday night competition at the Fort Garry club. But after playing in a cash spiel in La Salle, Man. earlier in the season, they felt that competitive fire roaring back. They almost snagged a Scotties berth in the regional playdowns, but fell 6-3 to Shannon Birchard's West St. Paul rink on Sunday.
Now, one more chance to make it to the Scotties, in just their first year back.
"We were very lucky. As much as we kind of abused our curling ability by not curling for so long, it definitely came back to us pretty naturally," Sneison said. "I can't believe I had forgotten it for so long, how good it felt."