Randy in the Rings: Hometown hopefuls set to hit the ice 

Sudbury Five try their hands at curling, too

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Though the Dustin Montpellier rink will clearly not be the prohibitive favourite heading into the NOCA men’s playdowns this month, they might well be the sentimental choice – at least in phase one.

With the East Qualifier being hosted at the Copper Cliff Curling Club from Dec. 21 to 23, Montpellier has cobbled together a hometown entry, despite the fact that his more traditional quartet is on something of a one-year hiatus.

“We haven’t really curled competitively whatsoever this year, so we kind of threw in a team,” said the 27-year-old skip.

The rink that will carry the Copper Cliff hopes into the road to the Brier will include Jason Strelezki at vice, Chris Gordon at second and lead Matt Gordon.

“We’re just going to have fun with it.”

That said, this team is not without curling pedigree. Strelezki is extremely well-established within the club curling ranks, generally guiding teams that remain a threat the advance to the Curling Club Nationals. Chris Gordon is, as we speak, throwing fourth stones for a Copper Cliff entry to the NOCA Senior Men’s East Qualifier in Timmins this weekend.

His son, Matt, has been at the side of Montpellier throughout much of his more recent competitive journeys in the sport. This combination of youth and experience is new ground for the young man who joined forces with Eric Gelinas, Cody Tetreault and Matt Gordon in taking a run at Brad Jacobs and others at NOCA provincials last February in Little Current.

“I’ve never gone this route before,” said Montpellier. “I know a lot of younger curlers have gone the route of curling with maybe an older skip, or someone who has been there before, but I’ve always skipped my own team. This will be interesting.”

As for his team’s realistic chances of nabbing one of the three berths to provincials that are up for grabs, Montpellier is certainly not discounting the talent that he has on hand.

“We do want to make provincials,” he said. “Sometimes the less I practice, the better I curl,” he added with a laugh. “So far this season, I feel like I am curling as well as I have ever curled, so we’ll see how that translates into an actual competition.”

Joining the Montpellier foursome at the qualifiers will be the Curl Sudbury entries of Jordan Chandler, Robbie Gordon and David Daoust, as well as Jeff Brown from North Bay and the aforementioned Cody Tetreault from Blind River.

While Montpellier might represent the elite of those curlers who were on hand in Copper Cliff Thursday evening taking part in the weekly squad league session, Kim Battistoni readily admits she is at the far other end of the spectrum.

Battistoni, who was stepping in to spare with one of the teams in this grouping, is one of 11 brave souls who venture out every Monday evening for the Learn to Curl program. “My daughter and a friend were going out and they wanted a fourth person with them, so I volunteered to come out,” said Battistoni. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

With nothing more than the occasional bonspiel already in her repertoire in terms of curling experience, the adventurous athlete acknowledged that those in charge of passing along their knowledge have checked off every box that she could have asked for.

“It starts right from the basics, how to come out of the hack, how to slide,” stated Battistoni. “They’ve taught us absolutely everything, right from the bottom up. I had thrown some rocks before, but there was no style, no form. I didn’t even know the etiquette of the sport.”

And though she has detected a great deal of progress over the course of the past two months, Battistoni is not about to make her way on to the Ontario Curling Tour any time soon. “We’ve spent lots of time coming out of the hack and delivering, and it’s not always pretty, but we’ve got the fundamentals of that,” she said.

“But the weight seems to elude all of us at this stage.”

With the Learn to Curl sessions closing out in two weeks time – there is expected to be another group launched in January – Battistoni is ready to put her new skills to the test.

“The idea is that, come January, we should be good enough to transfer in and join one of the leagues, or maybe join mixed doubles,” she said.

“Lots of us are going to go over and do mixed doubles. It’s a whole different game, but you get to learn all of the aspects.”

While she understands that curling might appear daunting to the uninitiated, Battistoni is more than happy to act as lead spokesperson, of sorts, for her group of newbies.

“It’s a lot of fun, not near as intimidating as you think it is,” she said. “The instruction has been incredible. They totally build your confidence. You start with balance and move up and refine your skills. You feel sage and secure.”

Current commitments might not allow American-born longtime Windsor resident Antoine Chandler the opportunity to partake in curling in early 2019. A member of the Sudbury Five basketball crew, there is, after all, this small matter of 24 regular season National Basketball League of Canada games to be played between January and March.

Otherwise, you just never know.

“I saw it on TV, so sometimes I’ve watched it, but I’ve never actually had a curling team or known anyone who was on a curling team,” noted the graduate of Eastern Michigan University.

Last Monday, he and his basketball teammates were treated to a brief introduction to a mainstay of Northern Ontario winters, very tentatively making their way out on the ice surface at the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club.

“It was cool,” said Chandler. “It was different, obviously, but I think I would like it. There’s a lot to it that I never knew, like turning (the “curl”, for the more advanced rock throwers out there). You just think the rock turns on its own, not thinking that you have to turn it.”

“It was different lunging out with a rock, and trying to balance yourself,” Chandler added. “There’s a lot to it that you don’t pay attention to. I never knew that there we’re little grooves (pebbles) on the ice. But it seems like a fun sport.”

Randy in the Rings runs weekly during the curling season.