Trips to the Canadian senior curling championships aren’t anything new for Brandon’s Lois Fowler and Neepawa’s Kelly Robertson, but the location of this year’s event is.
Fowler and her Brandon-based team of Maureen Bonar, Cathy Gauthier and Allyson Stewart as well as Robertson’s Neepawa-based squad of Doug Armour, Peter Prokopowich and Bob Scales, are off to Yellowknife, N.W.T., this weekend for the beginning of senior nationals, which start Saturday and will wrap up on March 27. Neither have been there and are looking forward to not only the event, but visiting a new place.
"It’s a place we’d probably never go to, but we’re all excited to be going to Yellowknife because it’s a place that’s so different," said Fowler, who skipped teams to bronze medals at the 2009 and 2013 senior nationals. "We got a letter the other day from the CCA about possibly going for dogsled rides. It will be a different atmosphere we’re looking forward to."
This is the first time Yellowknife has hosted a national curling event, and it has drawn some big names. In addition to Fowler, the women’s field includes defending senior champion Colleen Pinkney of Nova Scotia, 2011 Canadian senior champ Heidi Hanlon of New Brunswick, 2012 national Scotties runner-up Cathy Cunningham of Newfoundland as well as 2006 Olympic bronze medallist Glenys Bakker of Alberta. Two-time women’s world champion Marilyn Bodogh of Ontario is in the pre-qualifying draw as well.
The men’s field has two-time world senior champion Mark Johnson of Alberta as well as Brier veterans Robbie Gordon of Northern Ontario and Saskatchewan’s Darrell McKee.
If the fields weren’t tough enough, the players also have to deal with different arenas. Both Manitoba teams will play five round-robin games at the Yellowknife Curling Club and six at the Yellowknife Arena. Fowler has never had to bounce back and forth between surfaces before, but she’s confident her team will be able to adapt.
"We do get to practise on Friday on the arena and Saturday in the club and we play our first game on Saturday in the club," said Fowler, whose goal is to make the three-team playoffs as she chases her first national title. "It’s the same for both teams and I’m told the ice is supposed to be similar. I think we’ll be fine. We’re all good at reading the ice and adapting to weights, so I’m sure we’ll adapt no problem."
Dealing with different arenas isn’t anything new for Robertson’s team. They had a similar situation in Digby, N.S., in 2011, and they went on to win that event.
Robertson hopes his team’s experience at the 2011 and 2012 senior nationals works as a huge advantage for them as they eye their second Canadian championship in four years.
"We’ve been throwing rocks and we’ve been to a couple of these before and know what to expect and some of the teams there," he said. "If we play the way we’re capable of, we’ll hold our own and we could win it again."
MIXED: Five Westman teams will compete in the Chicken Chef mixed provincial championship, which runs from Friday through Sunday in Altona. Among the teams in the field are Brandon’s Lee Robins, Killarney’s Don Chatham, Carberry’s Trevor Calvert, Neepawa’s Ron Kulbacki and Dauphin’s Ray Baker. Winnipeg’s Sean Grassie goes in as the top seed. The final is set for Sunday at 5 p.m.
EXTRA ENDS: The Brandon Curling Club’s championship day is Saturday … Glenboro is putting on a three-event men’s and women’s bonspiel from March 28-30. Cost is $140. Call Bruce at 204-827-2303 … Killarney’s last-chance bonspiel will take place March 28-30. Phone Ron Stewart at 204-523-4428.