The season of champions continues in Shawinigan, Quebec when the 2018 New Holland Canadian Junior Curling Championship gets underway this weekend. With the Olympic trials in the past and other big events like the European Curling Championships and Pacific-Asia Curling Championships in the rear view mirror, it is time for the Canadian junior teams to take centre stage.
The junior championships are the epitome of the #growthesport movement. The opportunity to compete at a national championship can be the springboard towards future success in the sport, just ask past Canadian champs Kevin Martin, Brad Gushue, Jennifer Jones, Rachel Homan, John Morris, Kaitlyn Lawes and many others.
Will we see a future men's and/or women's Canadian, World and/or Olympic champion hit the ice at the 2018 Canadian Junior Curling Championship? Time will tell....but the field is stacked with talent and experience.
As mentioned above, the history of the Canadian Junior Curling Championships is a full house of future champions. Players who compete on the national level at a young age can help build success for their career while also helping promote the sport in their home province/territory.
Before hitting the house for the 2018 championships, settle in the hack for the history lesson warm-up:
- #Sponsorship - Success of any national championship relies on the athletes, the member organizations, the national sport body and....sponsors! The junior championship is no different. Heading into the 2018 event there have been 7 different title sponsors. For 2018, New Holland takes over lead sponsorship. Past title sponsors include: Sifton newspapers (1950-1957), Pepsi (1958-1994), Maple Leaf Foods (1996-1997), Karcher (1998-2005), M&M Meat Shops (2006-2015), Egg Farmers of Ontario (2016) and Ambrosia (2017).
- #HostingDuties - 2018 marks the sixth time Quebec has hosted the championship, with the last being in 2010 in Sorel-Tracy. In fact the first junior men's championship was hosted in Quebec City, Quebec in 1950. This year will be the first championship hosted by Shawinigan. The 2019 championship will be hosted by Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
- #AlbertaPride - Alberta leads the way in junior men's championship victories. Alberta has landed on top of the podium 16 times, most recently being in 2012 (Brendan Bottcher). Alberta has also won back-to-back championships 5 times, most recent by Charley Thomas in 2006 and 2007. Saskatchewan is a close second in championship wins with 14 with their last title coming in 2011 (Braeden Moskowy). Saskatchewan won the first-ever championship in 1950 and has won the #3peat twice from 1950-1952 and 1954-1956. 10 of Saskatchewan's 14 titles came before 1972 however. Manitoba sits in third place with 10 titles, buoyed by the 4 straight titles from 2013-2016 by Matt Dunstone and Braden Calvert. Each province has won the Canadian championship at least once, with Newfoundland and Labrador being the last province to claim their inaugural title (2001, Brad Gushue). Nova Scotia also has one title (1993, Shawn Adams). Quebec has won a total of 3 titles, most recent being 2008 (William Dion). All three territories are still looking for their first championship.
- #TeamGreen - Saskatchewan has the overall lead for junior women's titles with 11. Saskatchewan's last title came in 2011 (Trish Paulson). Saskatchewan was also the first province to win back-to-back titles in 1975 and 1976. Alberta is close behind with 9 wins, most recently being last season with Kristen Streifel. In fact, Alberta has won 3 of the past 4 championships. Manitoba also has 9 titles, further cementing the prairie provinces as the junior curling hotbed in Canada (both men's and women's). Manitoba last won the title in 2009 when Kaitlyn Lawes completed her back-to-back titles victories. 2018 host province Quebec has claimed only 1 title (1999, Marie-France Larouche). Similar to the junior men, Newfoundland and Labrador also only have 1 title to date (2007, Stacie Devereaux). The only provincial representation to not claim a title is Northern Ontario while all three territories also have yet to claim a title.
- #Repeat - Repeating a championship is one of the toughest milestones to accomplish for any athlete but seems to be even more difficult for junior curlers....until lately anyways. In the dawning years of the junior men's championship Saskatchewan's Gary Thode (1951, 1952) and Bayne Secord (1954, 1955) were the first repeat winners. However the next repeat winner did not occur until 43 years later in 1998/1999 when John Morris led his Ontario team to the back-to-back titles. Alberta's Charley Thomas accomplished the feat in 2006/2007 and Braden Calvert was the most recent repeat winner when he led his Manitoba foursome to titles in 2014/2015. Tyler Tardi will be looking to add his name to the repeat winner list when he tries to replicate his championship win from last year. On the women's side, Alberta's Cathy King was the first to accomplish the feat back in 1977/1978. Other champions include: Suzanne Gaudet (2001/2002), Kaitlyn Lawes (2008/2009) and Kelsey Rocque (2014/2015). There will be no repeat opportunity for the winner this year as Alberta's Kristen Streifel is not competing in Shawinigan.
Who will add their name to the history books this week? Time to hit the ice for the 2018 preview:
Canadian Junior Curling Championship
Format: 14 team RR with 2 pools of 7. Top 4 in each pool advance to Championship Pool. Top 3 in Championship Pool advance to playoffs with first place team earning a bye to the final.
2017 Champions: British Columbia (Tyler Tardi) and Alberta (Kristen Streifel)
Watch Out For: Don't underestimate Manitoba's JT Ryan. Ryan competed at the Canadian Juniors last season, finishing 4th after losing a TB to Ontario's Matthew Hall. Ryan also saw the streak of Manitoba victories end at 4 with his 4th place finish. He will come to Shawinigan more experienced and perhaps more ready and determined to get the Buffalo back to the top of the junior mountain in Canada. Ryan has competed in 8 tour events this season and has qualified in 7 of them, including 4 SF finishes. The team also sports an impressive 24-14 tour record.
#TeamUpset: There are a handful of teams in this pool who will be looking to knock off the Big Two and make a championship pool push. Nova Scotia's Matthew Manuel will be flying the flag the strongest after just missing out on a TB last year in the championship pool with a 3-4 record. Manuel is familiar with most of the teams he will compete against this week and, in his 4th junior appearance, will look to be the second Nova Scotia champion (1993). Another team to be on the look out for is New Brunswick's Liam Marin, who reached the championship pool last season. Quebec's Alek Bedard will look to ride home province support to sneak into the championship pool and never discount a team from Saskatchewan, led by Rylan Kleiter for the second straight season after a 2-3 pool record last year. Yukon's Joe Wallingham rounds out the pool and hopes to find success in Yukon's return to the competition after missing last season.
Projected Standings: 1. B.C. 2. Manitoba 3. Nova Scotia 4. New Brunswick 5. Quebec 6. Saskatchewan 7. Yukon
Watch Out For: Welcome back Tanner Horgan, representing Northern Ontario for the fifth time at the national championship. Horgan reached the championship pool last year but lost in the SF to provincial rival Hall. Horgan also lost the Canadian final in 2016 to Manitoba's Matt Dunstone. To say he has some #UnfinishedBusiness this week in Shawinigan may be an understatement. Horgan is 25-16 on tour this season, qualifying in 5 of 7 tour events and reaching the CookstownCash championship final (l. to Mark Kean). Expect another deep playoff run from Horgan.
#TeamUpset: The final championship pool spot in this pool is wide open and should be a fight between two Atlantic Canada provinces. Alberta's Karsten Sturmay should comfortably qualify out of the pool, making his third Canadian junior championship. But can Prince Edward Island's Alex MacFayden or Newfoundland and Labrador's Daniel Bruce wave the #TeamUpset flag and reach the championship pool this season? Perhaps the perfect upset could come from Northwest Territories Sawer Kaeser, who returns to the championship this season after an 0-6 pool record last year. Nunavut's David Aglukark rounds out the pool.
Projected Standings: 1. Ontario 2. Northern Ontario 3. Alberta 4. Prince Edward Island 5. Newfoundland and Labrador 6. Northwest Territories 7. Nunavut
Men's Championship Pool Qualifiers: B.C., Ontario, Manitoba, Northern Ontario, Nova Scotia, Alberta, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island
Men's Playoff Qualifiers: Ontario, Manitoba, B.C.
Canadian Junior Men's Curling Championship Final: Ontario (Hall) def. Manitoba (Ryan)
Watch Out For: There is plenty of experience in this pool behind the favourite Jones though. New Brunswick's Justine Comeau returns to the event for the third time after missing last season and looking to improve on her bronze medal finish in 2016. And remember the mention of Saskatchewan? Well Sara England was here last here with Kaitlyn Jones skipping the team. With the Jones departure, England took over the skipping duties and led the team to another Sask title. Skipping is in England's blood too of course. England's mother is legendary Canadian, World and Olympic champion Sandra Schmirler. Being a Sask-born curling fan, and Schmirler fan too of course, I cannot help but cheer for England's success this week in Shawinigan.
#TeamUpset: There are a few teams who could also make a strong push for top of the pool and perhaps a championship playoff push as well. Quebec's Laurie St-Georges returns to the national championship after previously competing in 2016 and reaching the championship round. A top #TeamUpset contender will be Alberta's Kayla Skrlik though. Skrlik has entered 3 tour events in Alberta this season, reaching the QF in Medicine Hat. Having watched Skrlik compete at the Autumn Gold Classic in Calgary back in October, I can attest this team is the real deal and should not be overlooked this week. Manitoba's Shea Bevan and Yukon's Kelsey Meger round out the pool.
Projected Standings: 1. Nova Scotia 2. Quebec 3. New Brunswick 4. Alberta 5. Saskatchewan 6. Manitoba 7. Yukon
Watch Out For: The rest of the pool? Seriously though, with this pool mostly featuring rookie teams/skips you almost do not know what to expect. Never discount an Ontario team though, this year led by Emma Wallingford. Hailey Beaudry looks to continue the recent success of Northern Ontario as well. Both Ontario and Northern Ontario reached the playoff round last season (both lost to eventual champ Alberta's Streifel of course). The wildcard may be B.C.'s Taylor Reese-Hansen who looks to also continue provincial success of the past with former Canadian champ Corryn Brown and B.C. champ Sarah Daniels aged out.
#TeamUpset: Could Nunavut's Sadie Pinksen finally put Nunavut on the curling map in her 6th national appearance? In her first three appearances she finished 0-6 each time but has upped the win total to a 1-5 record the past two seasons. With a wide open pool, could her experience help lead to a record performance of 2 or 3 wins? 3 wins could lead to a championship pool berth or a TB perhaps. Newfoundland and Labroador's Mackenzie Glynn could have something to say about that though and will be looking to guide her province to their first championship pool appearance (lost in TB in 2013 and 2017). Northwest Territories Tyanna Bain completed the pool.
Projected Standings: 1. Ontario 2. Prince Edward Island 3. Northern Ontario 4. B.C. 5. Newfoundland and Labrador 6. Nunavut 7. Northwest Territories
Championship Pool Qualifiers: Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Northern Ontario, Alberta, B.C.
Playoff Qualifiers: Nova Scotia, Quebec, New Brunswick
Canadian Junior Curling Championship Final: Nova Scotia (Jones) def. Quebec (St.-Georges)
As stated earlier, this is a STACKED field in both the men's and women's draw. Easily there are a handful of teams who could make a deep championship playoff run so the action on the ice in Shawinigan is going to be exciting to watch. This is the future of the sport in Canada folks. Cheer on the teams, support your home province/territory and send the teams your love all week through social media. Looking at the quality of the field in Quebec this week, the #growthesport movement in Canada is in great hands....or curling mitts.
Agree with the preview and predictions above? Disagree? Join the conversation in the comment section below and/or on twitter.
#StayTuned as well rock heads and stoners. Next week we have the first #gsoc event of 2018, Meridian Canadian Open, and a full preview blog post will be sliding into your house shortly. Man January is a busy month....