The pathway to national curling championships ramped up in earnest last weekend as the floodgates to a series of fast-moving qualifiers and regional championships were opened in both Timmins and Sioux Lookout.
An impressive grouping of 10 teams gathered at the McIntyre Community Centre, with half of the field advancing through the Senior Men’s East Qualifier on to the NOCA championships in Port Arthur in mid-January.
With several visits to the Canadian senior playdowns already on their resume, the Curl Sudbury crew of Robbie Gordon, Ron Henderson, Dion Dumontelle and Doug Hong showed no signs of slowing down, taking the most efficient route to the next stage by reeling off three straight wins.
The well-known local rink knocked off Michel Mayer (Curl Sudbury) 8-3 and Rob Thomas (Community First – SSM) 8-6, before edging hometown favourite Floyd Hopson 7-6 to secure the first qualifier slot. Hopson rebounded nicely, besting Thomas 7-3 the next morning to grab qualifier spot number two.
From there, it was a mix of some familiar faces, along with some returnees with an impressive pedigree as local entries grabbed the final three berths that were on the line. The Copper Cliff Curling Club entry of Chris Gordon, Alastair Giles, Tim Lloyd and Craig Ramsay overcame back-to-back setbacks to Roger Sauve (8-2) and Larry Pallot (7-4), picking up victories over Denis Lafreniere (7-4) and Thomas (6-3), with no margin for error.
The Patrick Chartier quartet from the Idylwylde (Rich Schmidt, Chris Jillings, Steve Garrett) were kept even busier, needing six games to earn their golden ticket. After a 4-3 loss to Thomas on Friday, Chartier and company reeled off victories over Lafreniere (9-1), Mayer (7-2) and Sauve (8-2), but were sent to the C draw when Thomas got the better of them for a second time (6-1).
In an all-Idylwylde matchup, Team Chartier stopped the foursome of Bruce Munro, Duncan Bell, Geoff Jeffery and Mark Brown by a final score of 6-5. Making a return to the competitive scene after an absence of several years, the Coniston Curling Club entry of Roger Sauve, Jean Sauve, Dan Sauve and Claude Gosselin showed they still have some game.
An 8-2 opening game win over Chris Gordon allowed for fewer games ahead, as the Sauve rink survived defeats against both Hopson (8-4) and Chartier (8-2), before blanking Pallot 7-0 on Sunday to keep their hopes alive of donning the Northern Ontario colours one more time.
As was noted in the column last week, the Copper Cliff Curling Club will be busy this weekend, hosting the NOCA Men’s East Qualifier. Six teams are on hand, with three of those advancing to provincials in Nipigon at the end of January.
The home club hopes might ride on the shoulders of the Dustin Montpellier rink (Jason Strelezki, Chris Gordon, Matt Gordon), but they are certainly not the only flag bearers for the Greater Sudbury area. With plenty of experience in recent years at Ontario Curling Tour events, the Curl Sudbury entry of Jordan Chandler, Sandy MacEwan, Luc Ouimet and Lee Toner would certainly have to be considered among the favourites to survive this weekend test.
They will, however, receive plenty of push from a pair of squads curling out of the same local club. Robbie Gordon is hoping to maintain the momentum from the previous weekend in Timmins, serving as skip for a group that includes Shane Gordon, Mark Robinson, Frederic Diebel and fifth Doug Hong.
It will also be interesting to keep an eye on the results posted by skip David Daoust (Curl Sudbury) and his collection of talent that features Felix Legendre, Steven Baptista and Allan Nachin, as they close out the field along with representatives from North Bay Granite Club (Jeff Brown) and the Blind River Curling Club (Cody Tetreault).
The first two draws took place on Friday, with three more set for Saturday. Tiebreakers, if necessary, will be held on Sunday.
No sooner will that event wrap up than the Sudbury curling focus shifts across town to the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club, the venue serving as host to the 2019 NOCA U21 provincial playdowns from Dec. 27 to 30.
For Tanner Horgan, Jacob Horgan and Maxime Blais, the bonspiel offers a chance to close off an amazing six-year junior run. Northern Ontario reps at nationals for every year since 2014, the trio is joined this time around by Max Cull, with Nicholas Bissonnette pursuing his studies in Toronto.
The local lads are pretty much assured of not taking anything for granted, after being pushed to the limit in the 2018 final against Chris Silver of Fort William (7-4), the latter returning to skip an entry from Thunder Bay again this year. While six junior men’s teams are in town for the fun and festivities, Team Horgan is the only rink with local ties.
Not the case on the women’s side of the draw, as Sudbury is sure to produce the NOCA female U21 champs for the fifth time in the past six years. That, however, might be the only prediction I can make with any kind of conviction.
With all four members having already experienced a Canadian Junior Curling Championship in prior years, one would not want to discount the chances of the Curl Sudbury rink of Kira Brunton, Megan Smith, Sara Guy and Kate Sherry.
Though they might give up a few years, right across the roster, to Team Brunton, that might well be the only area where the Idylwylde foursome of Bella Croisier, Jamie Smith, Lauren Rajala and Piper Croisier cannot go toe to toe with their local rivals.
And with the curling resumes that have been assembled, individually, by the athletes who round out the field in the form of Alyssa Denyer, Jessica Leonard, Alyssa McVittie and Abby Deschene, one can rest assured that it is clearly a case of quality over quantity in terms of the young ladies vying for a shot at nationals this year.
Randy in the Rings runs weekly during the curling season.