A lot on the line for Team Dunstone
Skip of top-ranked men’s team in Canada wants to head to Brier on winning note
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As the No. 1-ranked team in the country, Matt Dunstone’s rink knows they can afford to fall short this week in Neepawa for the Manitoba men’s curling provincials.
No matter what happens in the western Manitoba town on the Yellowhead Highway, Dunstone, third B.J. Neufeld, second Colton Lott, and lead Ryan Harnden have one of the three wild-card spots for this year’s Brier in London, Ont., in their back pocket if needed.
If you ask the 27-year-old Dunstone —who’s competing in the Viterra Championship for the first time since 2017, as he spent the last four seasons playing out of Saskatchewan — there’s a lot on the line for him at the 32-team event.
“Sure, I mean, (a wild-card spot) is a nice little carrot to have if things go south this week, but there’s a lot that we’re playing for. This is our last event before the Brier, so, whatever we do this upcoming week is what we’re going to remember going into London,” said Dunstone, whose father, Dean, will also be playing in Neepawa as the third for Richard Muntain’s team.
“So, that part of it is huge, and I’ve never won a Manitoba provincial before. To get the purple heart and wear the buffalo, I mean, that’s what every Manitoban curler dreams of.”
“And we have this belief amongst our team if we don’t win provincials, then we don’t like our chances at the Brier.”
Reid Carruthers, the tournament’s No. 2 seed behind Dunstone, is in a similar position as he’s currently ranked fifth in the Canadian Team Ranking System. But Carruthers will need to go on a deep run this week to have some confidence restored after parting ways with third Jason Gunnlaugson in late December. Carruthers made it to the final of the Ed Werenich Golden Wrench Classic in Tempe, Ariz., last week as a three-man unit with Derek Samagalski and Connor Njegovan before losing 7-2 in six ends to Alberta’s Karsten Sturmay.
“You have to tip your hat to Matt and his team for what they’ve done this year and being the No. 1-ranked Canadian team and for good reason. They’ve played really well, and we’ve had a bunch of games with them, I think we’re 2-4 on the season against Matt, so, by definition, they’ve had our number so far,” said Carruthers, who won last year’s provincial title playing third for Mike McEwen.
“I think with my team here, we’re a team that’s been there and done that. There isn’t a guy on our team that hasn’t won the provincials before. It’s an interesting feeling going into this championship every single year. You get excited, you get fired up, you put it on the calendar, and you always want to show up and play well. Over the last few championships, I feel our team has done that.”
“You get excited, you get fired up, you put it on the calendar, and you always want to show up and play well.”–Reid Carruthers
Every team must have at least four players on its roster for provincials. Carruthers added Matt Lorenz, a relative unknown in the competitive curling scene, for this week, but what the new addition’s role will be, if any, remains to be seen as the skip declined to comment on the situation. For the Brier, Carruthers could pick up any Manitoban who has not already qualified with a different team. He could also add an import player, but the options would be slim as it would have to be a non-Manitoban who hasn’t played in any provincial qualification events this season.
“At the end of the day, their situation is their situation. And regardless of what it is, they’re a team that we can’t take lightly in any capacity. I mean, we learned that the hard way when it comes to three-man teams as we a lost a slam final (Grand Slam of Curling’s Hearing Life Tour Challenge in Grande Prairie, Alta., in October) this year to Nik Edin’s team minus Nik (Edin was injured),” said Dunstone.
The top five is rounded out by Ryan Wiebe, Corey Chambers, and Braden Calvert. Wiebe, a 22-year-old skip out of Fort Rouge, led his foursome to last year’s provincial semifinal. This year, they head into provincials with elevated expectations as they’re now ranked 10th in the CTRS. Despite being in the top 10 in the nation, Wiebe has the challenging task of getting by two giants in Dunstone and Carruthers, who arguably have a lot less to play for than he does, to make it to the Brier. It’s a system that some would argue is flawed as a trip to nationals would be a valuable tool in developing a young, deserving rink like Wiebe’s.
“This is something I feel very passionate about… That’s the biggest problem, (these young teams) get into these difficult provinces and can’t get into the Brier and that’s where you see your max development. I see a huge issue with how this all plays out and sort of how this process works,” said Dunstone, who has four Brier appearances on his resumé.
“If I were to pick a happy medium for all, where everybody wins and everybody gets the Brier and we leave provincial doors open for these teams, I’d sooner see Curling Canada pre-qualify teams like myself, like (Brad) Gushue, like (Brendan) Bottcher, like Carruthers. Because if there’s pre-qualifying and you take us and Reid Carruthers out of provincials, then you have a handful, to a huge group of teams who suddenly have a realistic shot of being Team Manitoba at the Brier which I think is a great thing for the sport.”
The opening draw takes place Wednesday morning. Provincials wrap up Sunday with the final taking place at 2:30 p.m.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...