Gunner too quick on the draw the first time Changes mind, says he will now play in provincials
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/02/2022 (410 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The reigning men’s curling provincial champion will compete after all.
Just over a week ago, Winnipeg’s Jason Gunnlaugson took to Twitter to announce that he was backing out of the Viterra championship, which begins Wednesday at the Selkirk Curling Club and wraps up on Sunday, owing to COVID-19 concerns.
“I personally cannot reconcile playing non-bubbled and non-tested curling tournaments at his time,” wrote Gunnlaugson.
But Gunnlaugson has since changed his tune.
When the provincial championship draw came out on the weekend, Gunnlaugson and his Morris Curling Club team featuring third Adam Casey of Charlottetown, P.E.I., second Matt Wozniak and lead Connor Njegovan was on it.
Gunnlaugson won the Viterra in 2020 and went on to finish in eighth place at the Brier. The pandemic led to the provincial tournament getting axed in 2021, but Gunnlaugson was still able to return to the Canadian championship, finishing in eighth again, as Curl Manitoba selected his team to wear the buffalo again.
“We’re just really excited to defend the Viterra we won in 2020. We’re feeling good with where the protocols are at and everything so we’re excited to get going,” Gunnlaugson told the Free Press on Monday.
“We’re just really excited to defend the Viterra we won in 2020. We’re feeling good with where the protocols are at and everything so we’re excited to get going.” – Jason Gunnlaugson
Gunnlaugson wouldn’t elaborate on what led to him changing his mind on playing, but stressed how great it is to have the Viterra back.
“We definitely spent years trying to get to that point to win and then to have the whole world turned on its head here has definitely been strange. But we’re excited,” said Gunnlaugson.
“It’s one of those events on your calendar that you circle. It’s such a showcase event for the province and sport in the province. We’ve prepared a lot to do everything we can to try and defend it.”
One of the teams that will try to knock off Gunnlaugson is Mike McEwen. The foursome out of West St. Paul lost the 2020 final to Gunnlaugson.
“I’m glad he’s going to participate. At the end of the day for this event, our team would like to play the very best that Manitoba has to offer and I’m glad Jason feels comfortable and safe with what Curl Manitoba has set up,” McEwen said.
“We’re certainly excited to hit the ice. It looks like a great field. There’s a little bit unknown because a lot of us haven’t had quite the competition we would’ve liked to have over the past month and a half. There could be some rust early on, but you know, I think for most of the teams, we’re just excited to finally get back to doing something that we truly love to do.”
McEwen competed at the 2021 Brier in the Calgary bubble as a wild card team, but hopes they can make it to next month’s Brier in Lethbridge, Alta., in a different uniform.
“I love the wild card concept. I think it’s good to give teams that put a lot of time and effort and have good results and an opportunity to play nationals. I think it’s a great concept, but I’d like to wear the Manitoba colours again,” said McEwen.
“I feel like there’s a little bit of extra pressure that comes with that but I would embrace that.”
“I love the wild card concept. I think it’s good to give teams that put a lot of time and effort and have good results and an opportunity to play nationals. I think it’s a great concept, but I’d like to wear the Manitoba colours again.” – Mike McEwen
With everyone sitting at home watching Olympic curling and the Scotties, McEwen believes everyone’s competitive drive is at an all-time high right now. Half of McEwen’s team got to experience the Scotties in Thunder Bay firsthand. Third Reid Carruthers coached Kerri Einarson — who ended up winning her third-straight Canada championship — and lead Colin Hodgson coached Chelsea Carey’s wild card team. It’ll be a quick turnaround to get ready for the Viterra, which was originally set for Jan. 25-30 at the Selkirk Recreation Complex, but McEwen is confident his side will be ready.
“There’s been some unknowns over the last few weeks with how everything was going to shake out. Colin and Reid both had amazing opportunities to go coach at the Scotties… So, it’s a different preparation for a team and as an individual, but we’ve got an opportunity to come together the next few days,” McEwen said.
“We don’t play til Thursday so we’re going to prepare the best we can.”
Another change to the Viterra is that the draw has been cut down to 28 teams, a slight decrease from the traditional field of 32. The top four seeds, Gunnlaugson, McEwen, Colton Lott (Winnipeg Beach), and Braden Calvert (Assiniboine Memorial Curling Club), have all received first-round byes. That doesn’t make things easy, though, especially for the defending champ.
Gunnlaugson will play the winner of La Salle’s Randy Neufeld and Baldur’s Grant Shewfelt in the second round of the A-side bracket on Wednesday night. Neufeld grabbed Manitoba’s senior men’s curling title in November and knows how to win on the big stage as he won the Canadian senior’s crown back in 2015.
“To play a Canadian senior champion, potentially if he wins his first game, off a bye, is a very tough spot that wouldn’t happen in too many provinces,” said Gunnlaugson.
“It’s definitely a spot where you’re going to be tested right from the opening bell here.”
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...
2022 Viterra Manitoba Men’s Curling Championship
(Feb. 9-13, Selkirk Curling Club)
Braden Calvert – Assiniboine Memorial (AMCC)
Brett Walter – AMCC
Colton Lott – Winnipeg Beach
Corey Chambers – Fort Garry
Daniel Birchard – Pembina
Dean North – Carman
Evan Martin – Fort Rouge
Graham Freeman – Virden
Grant Shewfelt – Baldur
JT Ryan – AMCC
Jack Hykaway – Pembina
Jacques Gauthier – AMCC
Jason Gunnlaugson – Morris
Jeff Stewart – Gladstone
Jordon McDonald – Deer Lodge
Justin Richter – Beausejour
Kelly Marnoch – Carberry
Kyle McCannell – Pilot Mound
Mark Lukowich – Fort Rouge
Mike McEwen – West St. Paul
Randy Neufeld – La Salle
Richard Muntain – Granite
Riley Smith – AMCC
Ryan Thomson – Morden
Ryan Wiebe – Fort Rouge
Sam Anitla – Burntwood (Thompson)
Sean Grassie – Deer Lodge
William Lyburn – Granite