Top curlers mix it up at Fort Rouge Curling Club International field in town for Mixed Doubles Super Series
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A long list of accomplished curlers, names that have won the Scotties, Brier, world championships, and/or Olympic gold, are in Winnipeg this week at the Fort Rouge Curling Club.
The Winnipeg Open — which is one of five events across Canada this season in the new Mixed Doubles Super Series — kicked off Thursday with 25 teams from around the globe and wraps up on Sunday with a 4 p.m. final.
Scotland’s Bruce Mouat and Jennifer Dodds, the winners of the 2021 world mixed doubles, won the first Super Series event on Oct. 2 in Ottawa and are looking for a similar showing this weekend.
This event marks the first time Mouat, the skip of the No. 3-ranked men’s team in the world, has curled in Winnipeg.
“Obviously, the (Mixed Doubles Super Series) is trying to build something here. Hopefully, it can replicate what the grand slams in the men’s and women’s fields do. This year’s been good to start it and hopefully it will establish itself into something a bit bigger,” Mouat told the Free Press after Friday’s morning draw.
“I think competitions for mixed doubles have started off slowly and we’re starting to establish bigger events like this. It’s obviously attracting big teams to come. That will hopefully entice sponsorship and hopefully it can grow further. But yeah, it’s great to see so many great teams out here. It’s a tough competition.”
Mouat, 28, was in Sweden last weekend winning his third consecutive European Curling Championship. He had one day at home before boarding a plane for Winnipeg.
Dodds won women’s gold at the 2022 Beijing Olympics playing second for Eve Muirhead but the 31-year-old now strictly focuses on mixed doubles.
“You do see a lot of established curlers come and play mixed doubles later in their careers. But I think the trend now is you’re going to see younger curlers start early and play for a longer time,” said Mouat.
Winnipeg’s Shannon Birchard, who plays second for Kerri Einarson, doesn’t plan on ditching four-person curling anytime soon, but having more mixed doubles events on the calendar is a positive change of pace.
Birchard is playing with two-time Olympic gold medalist, John Morris.
“It’s a nice break from the four-person game. It’s more of a social game in the sense that we end up chatting with a lot of the other teams and end up having a drink after the game which doesn’t happen in the four-person game as much anymore,” said Birchard.
“But yeah, it’s a mental break from playing women’s. It’s a change up, it’s more fast paced, and helps get your mind off things. The four-person game can be pretty stressful. It’s a long season.”
This isn’t the first time Morris has paired up with a Winnipegger as he won the inaugural Olympic mixed doubles gold at PyeongChang 2018 with Kaitlyn Lawes. Morris also represented Canada at the 2022 Olympics with Rachel Homan, who’s in town this weekend playing with Kevin Koe’s third Tyler Tardi.
Morris — who won his first gold in 2010 Vancouver as the third for Kevin Martin — and Homan finished in fifth.
The 43-year-old Morris spent the past two seasons at second for Koe, but the Canmore, Alta., product, who was born in Winnipeg, now plays nothing but mixed doubles. He wants to make it to the Olympics again and he believes Birchard is the right fit to make it happen.
The Winnipeg Open is only their third event together.
“I’ve been really lucky. I’ve had two awesome partners in mixed doubles with Kaitlyn Lawes and Rachel Homan. They’re two of the best in the game. Kaitlyn didn’t want to play much mixed doubles after 2018 which was understandable because she was on a really good women’s team. And then I had a great tenure with Rachel and we just decided to amicably find different partners. We still remain good friends,” Morris said.
“I just thought if I’m gonna be playing this game, I want to have a great partner. For me, the priority was having a really good teammate and I knew that would be Shannon. I’ve always admired Shannon’s passion for the game and her skill.”
This week is the last of four preliminary competitions that lead up to the Super Series Championship in Brantford, Ont., (Dec. 16-18). Morris and Birchard won’t be there as Team Einarson will be in Japan for the Karuizawa International.
Birchard and the reigning, three-time Scotties champs aren’t packing for Japan just yet. Birchard is thrilled to have the opportunity to play at home.
Einarson is playing the Winnipeg Open with her husband Kyle.
“It’s amazing. It’s been a really, really long time since I’ve played at home. My family loves that they can come watch and my friends are coming to watch tonight,” said Birchard. “It’s pretty special and I hope for more events here in the future.”
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...