Thunder Bay’s curling community lost another good one. And without a doubt Tom Mustapic was just that. Musty, as he was known to his friends, passed away last Friday from ALS at the age of 61.
Mustapic and his younger brother Dan, 59, who represented New Zealand at the world championships, were both considered top up-and-coming players in the mid-1980s.
While he may not have realized his goal to play in a Brier, Tom made his mark on the local competitive curling scene, playing on teams that challenged for a Brier berth each year at the club and district level. He finally got to play for a purple heart at the 2009 Northern Ontario men’s provincials on the Scott Henderson rink that included Mike Desilets and Bill Peloza.
Sault Ste. Marie’s Eric Harnden, with his sons E.J. and Ryan, ended up winning the Brier berth that year in Englehart.
I first met Tom in the late 1980s when he played with a team skipped by Dennis Wilson, Al Laine, Bill Peloza and myself as a spare and sponsor. This team was part of the 12-team Men’s Major League and were always in the mix for the Zone 2 berth to the districts. The team also won the highly competitive Grey Cup Bonspiel back then — a title corralled without Musty. He had a trip booked to Arizona and was shocked on his return to learn the team had actually won the spiel. It was the topic of many laughs over the years.
Musty moved on to skip his own rink, and in 1996, he made a magical run at the Sunlife Grand Prix of Curling. Musty’s rink of Howie Frasier, Ernie Surkan and Bill Peloza, playing on their home ice at Port Arthur Curling Club, lost the final of the popular local cashspiel to Winnipeg’s Dale Duguid. The Duguid rink was one the pre-event favourites with a lineup of James Kirkness, David Nedohin and Doug Armstrong. Nedohin went on to win four Brier titles with the famed Ferbey Four.
Peloza, a lifelong friend of Musty for 50 years, says their run at the 32-rink Grand Prix that year showed they could compete against the best. The Mustapic-led squad reached the final, defeating Ottawa’s Dave Merklinger, who had recruited Al Hackner to play third as a spare for the semifinal.
Mustapic took a hiatus from the sport of curling in 2010 to concentrate on his high profile job with the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board.
It was during this time that he also got involved with coaching his sons in basketball.
Mustapic, who also wrote for the Ontario Curling Report, was planning a return to competitive curling in the fall of 2018. He was going to reunite with his friend Bill Peloza, Bill’s twin brother, Andy, and the Peloza’s cousin Rob Shubat to form the “Croatian dream team.”
Sadly, Mustapic never got to play a game that season as he ended up being diagnosed with the dreaded incurable disease, ALS, in early January 2019.
In his post on Facebook, Andy Peloza captured Mustapic’s spirit best.
“His sincere down to earth manner was topped only by his intelligence and he will be dearly missed especially by his wife Cindy and his sons Christian and Matthew,” Peloza wrote.
“Why horrible things happen to good people I don’t know. RIP Musty.”
ONE LAST HURRAH: The Tbaytel Major League of Curling will be impacted by Monday’s announced COVID-19 lockdown imposed by the Ontario government starting on Boxing Day.
The local competitive curling league will get in the round robin draw scheduled for tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Port Arthur Curling Club. However, league officials will have to make adjustments for a return to play in the New Year as all recreation facilities are to remain closed through Jan. 9.
The major league was scheduled to resume play with six games on Jan. 6 at the PACC. Those games will need to be rescheduled.
Dylan Johmston, Krista McCarville and Bryan Burgess have the opportunity to move into first-place as the major league continues with the final draw before the Christmas break with four games tonight at the PACC.
Johnston, McCarville and Burgess all have two losses. Johnston and McCarville are currently tied for first place with 6-2 records. Burgess (5-2) is one win back having played one less game. The three front-runners all play different opponents tonight with the potential of a three-way tie for first in the standings.
McCarville, who announced last week that her reigning Northern Ontario Scotties rink were opting out of their invite to the 2021 Tournament of Hearts at the Calgary bubble, will focus on the major league for the remainder of this season.
While McCarville has made the championship playoffs in years previous, she has never really challenged for this title like they have this year. That is because their focus was always on the Scotties where playdown events conflicted with major league draws.
The 38-year-old skip and her rink of Jordan Potts, Ashley Sippala and Sarah Potts draw Trevor Bonot as they look to rebound after having their six-game win streak snapped by the previously winless Dallas Burgess junior rink last week at the Kakabeka Falls Curling Club.
Meanwhile, Bonot and his rink of Kent Maarup, Andrew Hackner and Troy Avis are also in the heat of the race for first place as one of five teams with five wins.
Bonot (5-3) is tied with Hackner for fourth, while Ben Mikkelsen and Mike Desilets, each at 5-4, sit in sixth place.
The top seven teams in the 14-team league will qualify for the championship playoffs at the conclusion of round-robin play in early February.
Bonot, the 33-year-old former Canadian mixed champion, is using the major league games to prepare for the Canadian doubles slated for the Calgary bubble in mid-March. Bonot’s partner is Oye Sem Won, the second on the Dylan Johnston squad.
Johnston, whose rink also includes Brennan Wark, Chris Briand and Kurtis Byrd, is back in action after a bye week looking to bounce back from a loss to Bryan Burgess two weeks ago at the Port Arthur club. The defending league champions draw the junior squad of Jonathon Vellinga (3-4) tonight.
Burgess and his Kakabeka club squad of Mike Vale, Tristen Vale and Greg Hollins look to build on their 8-5 win over Johnston two weeks ago.
Burgess faces a former teammate in Gary Weiss. Weiss has played the last three draws with a three-man squad, but have managed to stay in the playoff race with a 4-4 mark.
The night’s other match has extra bragging rights on the line as Hackner takes on Frank Morissette.
Hackner and his lead Gary Champagne are currently or have been teammates with Morissette and his second Kris Leupen. In fact, the foursome lost the Northern Ontario men’s final to Brad Jacobs in Kenora in a memorable game back in 2015.
Hackner and Leupen play together in Tuesday Night Club play at the Fort William Curling Club, while Morissette and Champagne are teammates on separate squads on the same night.
Hackner’s major league squad that includes Joe Scharf and Jamie Childs are out for a sixth win, while Morissette, with Pat Berezowski at third and Rob Skinner at lead, sit at 4-3 as they shoot to snap a two-game skid.
AROUND THE CLUBS: The Ontario lockdown will see all three local curling clubs — Port Arthur, Fort William and Kakabeka — close over the holidays and will extend to the Jan. 9 deadline.
Curlers should check with the club websites or contact the clubs directly as to when their leagues may resume play.
If you have information that you want to share in this weekly curling column, please email John Cameron at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 631-3032.