Harnden making most of opportunity

Transition to new squad seamless as Team Manitoba lives up to top-seed billing


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Ryan Harnden is getting exactly what he signed up for.

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Ryan Harnden is getting exactly what he signed up for.

The 36-year-old lead from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., was forced to look for a new opportunity this past off-season when his long-time skip Brad Jacobs made the decision to step away from curling.

After playing out of Northern Ontario for 16 years — 14 of those under Jacobs — Harnden was on the hunt for a new opportunity. He picked up the phone and reached out to B.J. Neufeld, and then Matt Dunstone, and the group decided to form a Manitoba-based foursome that also includes Colton Lott.

“It was my first time going through that process. I’m not sure what the outcome would’ve been even if Brad was going to continue to play, but when he made that decision to step back, it obviously made it a little easier to find a team,” Harnden said.

“I wanted to make sure it was the right fit for myself and wanted to make sure I could get on a top three team in Canada. So, when we put this team together, I was extremely excited.”

Fast forward to this week’s Brier in London, Ont., the first-year team looks poised to finish in the top three at the very least. They concluded the round robin with a perfect 8-0 record to earn themselves the top spot in Pool A. To avoid a three-way tie for first, Dunstone and Team Manitoba had to defeat Northern Ontario’s Tanner Horgan Thursday afternoon.

It ended up not even being a contest as Dunstone dominated en route to a 9-2 victory. Alberta’s Kevin Koe (7-1) finished in second while Horgan (6-2) had to settle for the third and final playoff spot out of the group. The three playoff teams out of Pool B are Canada’s Brad Gushue (7-1), Wild Card no. 1’s Brendan Bottcher (7-1), and Ontario’s Mike McEwen (6-2). Since Gushue beat Bottcher earlier in the week, the defending champion took first place.

Dunstone and Gushue are now guaranteed spots in the final four. Dunstone will play a Page playoff seeding game Friday night against the winner of Friday afternoon’s battle between Bottcher-Horgan. Gushue meets the Koe-McEwen winner in the other seeding game.

“It feels really good. Obviously, you want to be first in your pool so you don’t have to jump into an elimination game. Goal No. 1 has been accomplished,” said Harnden.

It will be a busy weekend for the Harnden family as Ryan’s older brother E.J. plays second for Gushue. This is the first year Ryan and E.J. — who won the Brier in 2013 and Olympic gold in 2014 with Jacobs — haven’t played together since 2007. They’ve been on opposite teams in skins games, but never a serious competition such as the Brier.

Until now.

“We’re still on the ice together quite a bit practising. When we’re not playing against each other, we’re each other’s No. 1 fan,” said Ryan.

“I want them to have a great week, but obviously, if we play them in the playoffs at some point, he’s just another competitor in my eyes.”

Ryan and E.J., who are both at the Brier for the 14th time, are often referred to as the ‘Brush Brothers’ as two of the best front-end players in the game. At the beginning of his career, Ryan skipped before transitioning to second. He’s now been throwing the first rocks for roughly a decade.

“Every position in our sport is very important. The transition 10 years ago was probably a little bit difficult to be honest with you, but over the years, it became a little easier and I got more comfortable throwing more draws and touch shots,” Harnden said.

“You just want to help your team out in any way you can, whether you’re making shots or not. Just wanting to be a good teammate, sweeping your brains out, and putting rocks in the right spots is what I take a lot of pride in.”

Lott, a 27-year-old from Winnipeg Beach, skipped a team to last year’s provincial final where he lost to Mike McEwen. Now playing a new position at second, Lott gives a lot of credit to Ryan for helping him adjust.

“I’ve just been absorbing everything he’s been doing. Just the patience on sweeping and being such a great weight judger, and just that calmness. It makes it so much easier, and I’ve taken that into my own game here,” said Lott.

“Both of us are always on the same page. It’s been unbelievable. I’m speechless.”


Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...

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