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Northern Ontario skip Krista McCarville directs her team at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts at Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay on Jan. 28, 2022. McCarville is in Kenora this week for the Northern Ontario women's curling championship.

The elusive trip to wear the green and gold of Northern Ontario at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier is the prize that curlers from Thunder Bay and across Northern Ontario will be chasing this week in Kenora.

The combined provincial playdowns for women and men gets underway this morning with 18 teams competing over the next five days. Games will be played on the five sheets of curling ice installed at the Kenora Recreation Centre by local icemaker Brent Adamson and his crew.

Thunder Bay’s Krista McCarville rink is seeking a return trip to the Canadian Women’s Curling Championships to be held in Kamloops, B.C. Feb. 17-26. McCarville is favoured in the seven-team women’s field that includes two other Thunder Bay rinks plus two from the district.

Meanwhile, Brad Jacobs from Sault Ste. Marie returns with a new lineup to defend his Northern Ontario men’s title. Jacobs will compete in the 10-rink men’s field with four of the teams from Thunder Bay. The winner from Sunday’s final advances to the Brier in London, Ont., March 3-12.

Sights on Kamloops

McCarville and her Fort William Curling Club teammates Kendra Lilly (Sudbury), Ashley Sippala and Sarah Potts with coach Rick Lang have been waiting all year to earn their way to Kamloops for another shot at the Scotties title, a title that was within their grasp last year.

McCarville’s Northern Ontario rink lost the final to Team Canada’s Kerri Einarson settling for the silver medal in what would have been a storybook ending at the Fort William Gardens on home ice.

“We have had silver twice and it is not good enough. This is what we play for all year. Our focus is now on provincials to get back to the Scotties and hopefully we can get there again to set some goals to win it,” McCarville said on a bid for a 10th Scotties appearance.

Team McCarville have a two-game day as they open play in Kenora today.

The Fort William Curling Club foursome face the Hailey Beaudry rink form Fort Frances in their opener at 2:30 p.m. (Central), and then draw one of two Thunder Bay teams competing, the Nicole Westlund-Stewart foursome from Port Arthur Curling Club in the evening draw at 7:30 p.m. (CST).

McCarville played against Beaudry and her third Erin Tomalty in the Tbaytel Major League when they attended university in Thunder Bay. Victoria Beaudry and Hilary Smith round the team on the front end.

As for Westlund-Stewart, she is playing with three players who have won a Canadian championship. Megan Carr, the third on team, is a Canadian mixed champion while Samantha Morris and Rebecca Carr are national club winners.

The other Port Arthur Curling Club team is skipped by import Jennifer Briscoe from Thompson, Man. Shana Marchessault, who has provincial experience, plays third, Corie Adamson, who was also on last year’s Canadian club championship team skipped by Tracey Larocque, is the second, and Carly Perras, who played five years in the Manitoba playdowns with Briscoe at lead. The Briscoe rink opens the round robin qualifier against Crosier in tonight’s 7:30 p.m. draw.

McCarville is also familiar with curlers on the McCormick rink from Stratton that includes the two Gates sisters from Sudbury with Kenora’s Crystal Taylor at third. Jennifer Gates played with McCarville at the 2019 Scotties in Sydney, N.S., and then again in Moose Jaw in 2020 when regular front-end players Sippala and Potts took maternity time off.

Amanda Gates is also a familiar face, playing front end on the Tracy Fleury (Horgan) teams that beat McCarville out for the Northern Ontario title in 2015 and 2018.

McCormick brings her own experience as a member of the silver-medal winner at the mixed nationals with brother Trevor Bonot, Mike McCarville (Krista’s husband) and Amanda Gates.

McCormick won the title with Bonot in 2016. McCormick is on the ice against the Bella Crosier rink from Sudbury in the only women’s morning contest.

The Krysta Burns rink from Sudbury is another strong squad expected to challenge Krista McCarville for the title. Burns, a former university champion, has experience from the 2021 Scotties when they played in the bubble in Calgary.

McCarville, who is bidding for a fifth Northern Ontario title with her current team, admits there is pressure to repeat in what is the strongest field at a provincial in a few years.

“This what we play for all year, this is what we practice for and what we are excited to do,” she said. “And you know since there hasn’t been a provincial in two years this is exciting for our team too. I mean going in for sure we feel pressure but we just want to go out there and play and have fun and do what we do best and just play well.”

Battle for Brier berth

The battle for a Brier berth in Kenora is the widest open that it has been in the last 13 years in Northern Ontario. Years dominated by Jacobs and his juggernaut rink from Sault Ste. Marie that included his cousins E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden are no more. The Harndens are on separate rinks outside the province.

However, Jacobs is back to defend his Northern Ontario title as the No. 2 seed in the 10-rink field with a lineup that includes Little Current curler Jordan Chandler at third.

The Tanner Horgan rink from Sudbury, playing with Alberta import and former Brier champion Darren Moulding at third, is the No. 1 seed entering the triple knockout qualifying round.

Trevor Bonot is skipping one of the four Thunder Bay entries and has played in the most of the provincials over last 13 years. He says there is a different feel with Jacobs not there with his dominant lineup.

“For them to have that hold on provincials for so long, they were such a great team playing at a professional level, it was really hard for any of us to have a real chance,” Bonot said. “But you know Horgan’s up-and-coming, and they are playing (Grand Slam events), they are playing a lot of very good teams every week, so if they keep playing together they will be that team to.

“So for us that still work full-time and have those commitments, we just have to play our best and really at the end of the day hope curling goes our way that day,” added Bonot, who announced former world champion Al Hacker and their coach and alternate this week.

There is a bit of optimism this could be the year that a Thunder Bay rink gets to represent Northern Ontario at the Brier for the first time in eight years. Two of those Thunder Bay teams — Bonot and Brian Adams Jr. face each other in this afternoon’s draw knowing the task at hand.

“We play all year for this week, so we know what we have to do go in there and play our best. Obviously those teams are great but if we play at our best I think that we can compete with them,” said Bonot, who along with his third Mike McCarville will draw on their experience playing at the Canadian mixed the last two years.

Jordan Potts is second on the team while Kurtis Byrd is a new addition at lead.

Adams, the one-time junior star who is now in his early 40s, is making a return to the competitive men’s scene dating back to his loss in the Northern Ontario final to the Jeff Currie rink in 2014.

Currie’s team back then included Mike McCarville, Colin Koivula and Jamie Childs who are all in Kenora this week playing on different teams while Adams’ team that year included Brennan Wark, Potts and his brother Joel.

Adams moved to Thunder Bay this fall after nine years in Geraldton to form an all-brother’ team with his younger sibling Joel, and the two Koivulas (Mark and Colin) who played with Adams on junior championship teams.

Adams says the fact they have all played together before and being brothers gives them some advantage for team chemistry.

“The team dynamic was right there from the beginning, you could feel it. That is a big advantage, a brand new team where people don’t know each other to well it takes a lot of time to get use to your team. That learning curve wasn’t there for us. So that was a big help to start the year,” said Adams.

“With the experience from the year’s prior, you know that you have to play well the entire week. So on a great ice surface it is a matter of execution and consistency and I think we have those tools in the bag so we just have to show up and play as good as we can and I think we will have a good shot.”

The other Thunder Bay teams in the 10-rink men’s field skipped by Kory Carr and Dallas Burgess are both from the Port Arthur Curling Club and hoping to make run for the trip to London.

Carr and his rink of Tyler Stewart, Travis Potter and Childs face a tough test in their opening game this afternoon. They draw Sudbury’s Sandy MacEwan, who lost the provincial final to Jacobs last year by a narrow 6-5 margin.

Burgess and his young rink of Jackson Dubinsky, Matt Duizer and Owen Riches are playing in their first men’s provincial using the games as a tune-up for the Northern Ontario under-21 provincials to be held in Thunder Bay in early March. Burgess is on the ice in one of two men’s games this morning, taking on the Joshua Szajewski rink of Chris Lock, Wade Shasky and Matt Schottroff from the Keewatin Curling Club.

The other local Kenora entry, the Ryan Meadows foursome of Jon Ranger, Cameron Longe and Taylor Schottroff from Kenora Curling Club, open against the Chris Gilbota rink from Sault Ste. Marie.

Fans unable to travel to Kenora can watch live stream on Curling Zone. Thanks to sponsor Unibet cameras have been installed for coverage on all five sheets at Kenora Rec Centre.

Connect to live stream through CurlingZone YouTube at www.youtube.com/@CurlingZone/streams or follow on line scores on the NOCA website at www.curlnoca.ca.

MAJOR WINNERS: The Adams Jr. rink are looking to use their victory on Sunday over Team Bonot to claim the Tbaytel Major League title to their advantage when the two teams clash again this afternoon in Kenora.

Team Adams who finished first over all in the round robin standings of the 14-team local competitive lead were full marks for their 8-1 win over Bonot in the championship final to claim the covet Major League title at the Port Arthur Curling Club.

It was the first major league title for Adams as a skip.

Adams says the Major League games is what his team committed to in preparation for the provincials.

“We knew we were going to have a light schedule going in. I always thought Thunder Bay Major League was great competition that is what it was set up for to prepare teams for playdowns,” he said. “We all get to play each other with good games and the major league bonspiel on top of that so we are as prepared as we could be with our schedule this year.”

BIG SCORE: Eight-enders are still rare in curling so like a hole in one in golf curlers are excited to score one.

Sharon Rogerson and her rink of Helen Potter, Karen Armiento and Marlene DeLorenzi counted the perfect end in a Port Arthur Ladies afternoon league game last week.

AROUND THE CLUBS: The Port Arthur Curling Club is still staking entries for its popular Labatt Super Bowl Bonspiel set for the weekend of Feb. 9-12. The spiel is open to all teams with the entry fee of $200 per team. Sign up is at the PACC bar.

If you have upcoming events, information or bonspiel results you want to report in this column, please submit by Monday each week to johncameron14@gmail.com.