Just 1 year ahead of Olympic qualifiers, Canadian curling starts to get back on track

Maybe for the first time this curling season, things seemed a little bit normal. 

This past weekend, most elite men’s curling teams in the country took to the ice in locations across Canada looking to claim the top prizes in their respective bonspiels. They certainly haven’t thrown nearly as many stones as they are used to at this point of the season, but — perhaps unsurprisingly — the curling was at a very high level.

Take for example the string of games put together by Manitoba’s Team Mike McEwen. In its first event of the season, the rink went 7-1 to win the Ashley HomeStore Curling Classic on Monday afternoon by defeating Glenn Howard in the final from Penticton, B.C.

With restrictions and lockdowns all across the country, it’s been increasingly difficult for curling teams to practice and travel. However, McEwen, third Reid Carruthers, second Derek Samagalski and lead Colin Hodgson didn’t miss a beat.

Just a day earlier in Nova Scotia, Brad Gushue and his rink of out St. John’s, Nfld., won their 15th consecutive game in securing a third-straight championship. 

On that same day in Saskatchewan, Matt Dunstone went undefeated at the SCT North — Prince Albert bonspiel. Down the road in Saskatoon, Colton Flasch and his new-look rink also picked up a victory, going undefeated en route to capturing the SCT Central — Nutana event. 

WATCH | McEwen claims Ashley HomeStore title:

Mike McEwen scored four in the first end, on the way to a 6-3 victory over Glenn Howard in the final of the Ashley Home Store Curling Classic in Penticton, B.C. 1:17

While the men were able to get back to the ice in a number of different locations, many of the elite women’s curling teams didn’t enjoy the same fortune. The 12-team field including Jennifer Jones, Rachel Homan, last year’s Scotties winner Kerri Einarson were set to take to the ice in Okotoks, Alta. for the Okotoks Ladies Classic starting last Thursday. 

They played the first draw before everything came to a screeching halt. New COVID-19 measures announced by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney meant the tournament could not be played. 

What these new restrictions in many jurisdictions across the country will mean for curlers remains to be seen, with provincial playdowns to determine representatives at the national championships looming as one of the biggest hurdles.

Olympic Trials 1 year out

Normally by this point of the season, many of the elite teams across Canada would be preparing for their third Grand Slam of Curling event of the season. Instead, they’ve been navigating their way through these challenging times, trying to get to as many smaller tournaments as possible and doing their best to play at the highest level. 

Obviously, this is the least amount of time Canada’s best curling teams have spent on the ice during a season in their careers. 

Perhaps why this is so crucial is because we’re now a year away from the Roar of the Rings Olympic qualifier set to take place in Saskatoon starting next November. 

WATCH | Gushue rolls to Stu Sells victory:

Brad Gushue and his team from Newfoundland and Labrador defeats Matthew Manuel 6-2 to claim the Stu Sells 1824 Halifax Classic. 1:47

And while there are always great expectations for Canadian curlers, this time around there will be added pressure coming off the 2018 Olympics without a medal in both the men’s and women’s events. 

With so many unknowns, Curling Canada has a monumental task in front of itself in trying to determine what teams will be in Saskatoon next year to compete for those two coveted spots. 

There are just a handful of events left in the 2020 calendar year and the scene is shifting fast to 2021 and what the Scotties, Brier, Mixed Doubles and world championship events will look like. 

A Calgary bubble with up to six curling events is what is most likely right now — the men’s and women’s national championships, mixed doubles national championship, men’s world championship and two Grand Slam events could be held at the Winsport Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.

Those events will go a long way in determining who will be on the ice in Saskatoon playing for the opportunity to wear the Maple Leaf at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Read more at CBC.ca