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Young teams take big steps at Road to the Roar

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Ryan Horne, TSN.ca
11/11/2013 2:21:18 PM
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KITCHENER, Ont. – The field is now set for the Roar of the Rings Canadian Curling Trials next month in Winnipeg.

The final two spots on both the men's and women's side were wrapped up in Kitchener this past week with a few surprising teams, especially on the women's side – taking the next step in their curling careers. The biggest one came from Val Sweeting and her Edmonton rink, who upset two-time Scotties winner and former world champion Kelly Scott in the second qualifier.

"Based on where we were sitting coming in, we knew we had a good shot, we had a good start to the season and we just knew we had to play well," said Sweeting after the biggest win of her career.

Joanne Courtney is the second on the team – throwing third rocks – and says she thought the team was finally ready to make the next step going into the week.

"We've actually been playing quite consistently, having decent results on tour. We were close. We weren't winning, we weren't making semis, but we felt we were playing consistently and starting to play well," said Courtney.
"It's the biggest game any one of us has ever played in our entire lives and we were able to go out there, stay together and put together a game that was good enough to win."

Renee Sonnenberg of Grand Prairie, Alberta also advanced to the Trials by defeating Scott in the first qualifier. The 2006 Olympic bronze medalist, Shannon Kleibrink, and the 2010 Olympic silver medalist, Cheryl Bernard, were both unable to make it to the qualifying matches.

On the men's side, it was more of what people expected.

John Morris and his new rink from Kelowna, B.C., formerly led by Jim Cotter, who still throws skip stones, dominated all week, going undefeated. 

The defending Brier champ Brad Jacobs and his Sault Ste. Marie rink topped Brad Gushue of Newfoundland, 7-6 in the final qualifier.

"It feels like we've been here for a month, it really does," said Jacobs.

The event was a tough one for the team, having to play in the second qualifier after losing a sloppy game to Morris in the first, but Jacobs said that's just how they do things.

 "We bounce back really, really well and I just think it's because we all have the same goal in mind and we all want to win so badly that we'll do whatever it takes," said the 28-year-old skip.
 
With their Brier dream already crossed off, Jacobs says they're ready for another accomplishment – Olympic gold.

"The Olympics and the Brier for me as far as goals, wanting to win and importance is 50/50. We've won the Brier; this [Olympics] is the next step. We want this really bad," he said. "You etch your mark in history when you win the Brier, but I think you do that even moreso when you win an Olympic gold medal."
   
Gushue knows what it means to be an Olympic champion.

He won it as a 25-year-old in 2006, alongside veteran Russ Howard, Mark Nichols and Jamie Korab. Fast-forward eight years later, Gushue has a completely new – and younger – team.

Third Brett Gallant, 23, second Adam Casey, 24, and lead Geoff Walker, 27, make up one of the youngest squads in curling and Gushue says it will take time to click.

"This team wasn't probably ready to win this year anyway. We're still young, we still make stupid mistakes and it cost us this week," he said.

Having said that, Gushue likes the path they're on.

"I think we're only going to get better. I think there are a lot of teams out there right now that probably are on the downside of the longevity of their teams," said the owner of a Menchie's Frozen Yogurt franchise. "I think there's a lot of upside in our team and what we can do. We're going to regroup from this and learn from it and try to get a little bit better."

It's easy to see curling is going through a transitional period with younger teams like Jacobs and Rachel Homan quickly rising through the ranks. Yet a lot of the top rinks still have skips who are in their 40's or 50's, namely Glenn Howard, Kevin Martin and Jeff Stoughton.

"There are a lot of good, young players [in the game], fortunately for me I have three of them on my team and I'm not that old myself," said Gushue.

Sweeting's rink is a youthful group as well but Courtney doesn't believe being young is an advantage when it comes to curling.

"There are two sides of the coin there," said the 24-year-old. "The older teams have a lot more experience in this type of setting – the arena, being on TV, being mic'd, all those type of things. I don't know really if age plays a ton."

The Roar of the Rings Olympic Trials run from Dec. 1-8 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg with complete coverage on TSN and TSN2.

Val Sweeting (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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