Young guns ready to rock
Up-and-coming teams learn to win by watching curling’s top guns
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/02/2022 (238 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Despite the wealth of curling talent in Manitoba, Mike McEwen and Reid Carruthers have owned the Viterra Manitoba men’s provincial cahmpionship for quite some time.
Before Morris Curling Club’s Jason Gunnlaugson finally climbed to the top of the provincial mountain in 2020 by knocking them off in the final, the previous five Vitteras were won by teams skipped by McEwen or Carruthers (the two skips joined forces in 2018).
So yes, most of the attention will be on Gunnlaugson and McEwen this week, but that doesn’t mean people should be sleeping on some of the up-and-coming teams in the province.
Look no further than Fort Rouge’s Ryan Wiebe who went on an improbable run in 2020 at the age of 19. Wiebe’s unit finished the Viterra in fifth place and was the only team to defeat Gunnlaugson at the event. Wiebe, who’s hoping for a similar performance this week, got off to a good start on Wednesday at the Selkirk Curling Club with a 9-3 victory over Jack Hykaway in the opening draw of the tournament.
“In men’s curling, especially the Viterra, people pay a lot more attention… We didn’t understand how big those wins were because we played those teams all year on the Manitoba tour. So then we played these teams, won a few games, and everyone was kind of raving about us. It was exciting, but really, really new to us,” Wiebe told the Free Press.
“We didn’t really have much pressure going into the event because we had never played in a Viterra and we were still a junior team. It kind of took the pressure off as we went ‘Well, if we lose we lose. We’re not here to win anyway.’”
That mindset is a bit different this time, though.
“Going into this Viterra, we’re a little older, a little more prepared,” said Wiebe, who wasn’t able to build off that success the following year as provincials were cancelled owing to COVID-19 concerns.
“How we played a couple years ago gives us a confidence boost. We know we can contend.”
But how far away are these young squads from competing with Gunnlaugson and McEwen on a consistent basis? Jacques Gauthier — a 23-year-old who skipped his Assiniboine rink to a world junior championship in Russia in 2020 — just watched his girlfriend Karlee Burgess, the third for Mackenzie Zacharias, win the Manitoba Scotties in December. Jennifer Jones and Kerri Einarson weren’t playing, but it’s still a heck of an accomplishment for a team fresh out of junior.
“It’s funny because we were talking about this last night as a team. We look at the women’s game and we look at Zacharias’ team and we were looking at the difference between her and the top teams. For me, what stands out is the strategy. The top women’s teams call such a smart game and that’s kind of their learning curve. And for us, it’s totally different,” Gauthier said.
“I mean, we can definitely get better in the strategy department, obviously, but the biggest difference watching Gunner and even McEwen at the Brier and all those guys is the execution. The execution and the sweeping that those guys have is on a completely different level than what we got.”
Gauthier got to see firsthand what not only the top teams in the province look like, but also the country as he was the fifth for Gunnlaugson at the 2021 Brier in Calgary. Prior to the Canadian championship, Gunnlaugson’s third Adam Casey was stuck in Prince Edward Island. leading to the team leaning on Gauthier in their practice time. Gauthier also got to play in Calgary as he got some ice time against Yukon’s Ray Mikkelsen and none other than Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue.
“Their work ethic is just contagious. They throw every day for an hour or two and I got to see a little bit into their team and how it works and what it takes to be successful. I learned so much throughout the week not just from them but also watching other teams at the Brier. I definitely took a lot of stuff to take back to my own team,” Gauthier said.
Gauthier defeated Pilot Mound’s Kyle McCannell 8-3 in the late afternoon draw on Wednesday and will now face Deer Lodge’s Sean Grassie — the bronze medallist at the 2020 Viterra — today. Wiebe is also in for a tough one as he’ll meet another promising team in Assiniboine’s J.T. Ryan. Before becoming a skip, Gauthier played third for Ryan in junior. Ryan, now 24, and Gauthier won a silver medal at junior nationals in 2019.
Ryan and Gauthier are currently on the opposite ends of the A-side bracket, but the former teammates hope to bump into each other on a sheet at some point this week.
“There’s definitely a lot of trash talking, but no hard feelings,” Ryan said.
“It’s always nice to play against guys who are good and around your age. Just for bragging rights, you want to beat them, but especially when they’re former teammates, you don’t want to let those ones get away.”
NO POSITIVE CASES
Before anyone was allowed to take the ice, Curl Manitoba tested all the players for COVID-19 on Tuesday at the Selkirk Curling Club. With 28 teams in the tournament, there were over 100 tests administered and all of them came back negative.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...