WINNIPEG — Steve Irwin has a lot of experience skipping curling teams, but this week has been his first in that position at the Safeway Championship.
In the past, the 31-year-old Carberry native, who is playing with a Brandon-based team of Joey Witherspoon, Travis Taylor and Travis Saban this week, has been to three junior men’s provincials and three Dominion club curling men’s provincials. He won all three times at the Dominions and went on the nationals, where he has won a silver and bronze medal with his club team.
While things like the swingy ice are similar at the men’s provincials and the national Dominions, there are a lot of differences, including the level of competition and how Irwin plays them.
"We maybe play a little different game in the Dominion," he said. "Here you have to force the issue a bit because if you just go up and down you’re not going to have a chance against any of the top guys. This is kind of similar, but you have to be more aggressive out here."
As much as experience in the junior ranks and Dominions have helped him this week, his six previous trips to the Safeway Championship have been crucial.
During each of those trips, Irwin served as third for Terry McNamee and was a member of the team that finished third at the 2011 provincial championship.
Through that experience, Irwin has grown comfortable with the ice and knows how important it is to have draw weight in your back pocket if you’re throwing the final stone. He has had it during most of the event this week, helping his team advance to the playoff round. Making the final eight was Irwin’s goal coming in and he’s loving life as a skip.
"Absolutely," he said. "We’ve been playing good all year."
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Graham Freeman and his Virden team of Allan Lawn, Kevin Barkley and Dwayne Barkley didn’t prepare much for the Safeway Championship, but they had the third-best run of all the Westman-based teams in Winnipeg.
Freeman and his team hadn’t played a game together before entering the Westman playdowns in December. However, they got on a roll, winning three in a row and clinching a Safeway berth through the A-event. The team had a rough start in its fourth game of the season, which was its Safeway Championship opener, before reeling off two wins to reach the B-side qualifying semifinals on Friday.
Freeman had a chance to win but was inside with a guard and Justin Richter came through a port to make a double takeout to win 6-5. While disappointed with his last shot, Freeman wasn’t upset with their exit.
"It was fun while we were here," he said. "We were starting to get into it and it was starting to feel like the old days. It’s fun to be out there competing against the good teams. We were getting better against every team, we were starting to throw better and I’m still trying to figure out my slide this year. I’ve played a dozen games and this team has played seven together. I’m not upset with the final result, but I still hate losing."
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Brandon’s Derek Papegnies has been in Winnipeg all week working as an umpire.