The Tracey Larocque rink from the Fort William Curling Club and the Ben Mikkelsen foursome from the Port Arthur Curling Club travel to Leduc, Alta., this weekend where the two Thunder Bay teams will represent Northern Ontario at the Canadian club championships starting on Nov. 25.
Curling Canada promotes this as a national championship for recreational, club-level curlers who don’t have the time or resources to compete at the high-performance level. It is an opportunity for club teams to represent their home province on the national stage.
The two Northern Ontario teams will see their first action in Leduc in the Nov. 25 evening draw. The first round has teams split into seven team pools with the top four teams to qualify for a double knock out round. The top four teams from the double knockout will then advance to the medal round.
Larocque and her rink of third Corie Adamson, second Rebecca Carr and lead Emily Juurakko face Saskatchewan in their first Pool D game. The other teams in their pool include Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and the Yukon.
Mikkelsen and his squad of Greg Doran, Chris Briand and Devin Doran draw New Brunswick in their opener. The PACC rink’s other opponents in Pool A are Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nunavut.
On Tuesday, the two local curling clubs held sendoff parties where family and friends came out to show their support in hopes of hanging another championship banner at their respective clubs. This is the fifth time the Port Arthur club is sending a team to the club nationals, while Larocque is the first team to go from Fort William.
Mikkelsen and his teammates are expected to have a good chance to contend for the men’s title. Mikkelsen will be skipping at his first national, but has experience representing the province at the Canadian juniors. Briand brings experience from high level games at recent men’s provincials with Dylan Johnston.
Mikkelsen and the Doran brothers have also played in the TBayTel Major League of Curling the past three years as a team and are currently one of the top teams in the local competitive league posting a 5-1 record .
Meanwhile, Larocque, Adamson, Carr and Juurakko will also be experiencing their first national championship in what is only the second season playing together for the team.
“The only reason for getting together was because provincials were in Thunder Bay last year,” jokes Larocque, whose team plays in the Monday Night Open League at the Fort William Club. The team members also curls on other nights in different leagues.
Larocque, who is originally from Kenora, has been curling for over 35 years.
“My first stones were thrown at age 6 with my dad with both feet in the hack and using regular stones (no little rocks back then). I have been skipping for almost 20 years,” said the FWCC skip, adding this is her first attempt at skipping at a competitive level.
Larocque first played competitive out of Kenora qualifying for the women’s provincials (Ontario Scotties) in 1997.
“I was lead and Corie (then Manahan) played second,” recalls Larocque. “I also curled in the mixed provincials in 2000 with Brent Adamson (Corie’s husband) at third.”
Larocque admits that she and her teammates are feeling anxious and nervous about playing in this big event but also confident at the same time.
“I’m feeling strong. Our team has come a long way in the short time we’ve been together,” she says. “We have made at minimum, the playoff round in every bonspiel we have entered in the last season and a half.
“Coming out of Thunder Bay, we’ve been lucky to have people like Rick Lang and Heather Houston for tips and advice. And Paul Carr has been a really great help with getting us to think about team dynamics and style of play,” adds Larocque, noting that all teams at the club nationals are going in with the same expectations, that is to win.
“Our first goal is to make sure that we stay focussed enough and play like we know how to in order to make that playoff round. Winning would just be a huge bonus.”
No Thunder Bay team has won this national championship for club curlers now in its 11th year. However, Thunder Bay curler Mark Adams was part of the Saskatchewan team that won the national men’s title in Halifax in 2014.
This year, Curling Canada is hosting this grassroots curling event in conjunction with the Home Hardware Canada Cup. The top six men’s and top six women’s teams in the country are also playing their elite competition at the Leduc recreation complex. The Canada Cup starts in Leduc on Nov. 27 where Thunder Bay’s Rick Lang will be in attendance as the coach for Brad Jacobs’ Sault Ste. Marie crew.
Fans looking to follow results on Team Larocque and Team Mikkelsen can visit www.curling.ca/2019clubchampionships.