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Canada’s wheelchair curlers aiming to build off last year at World Championships

Mark Ideson Mark Ideson - Getty Images

After reaching the medal podium at last year’s world championships, Canada’s wheelchair curlers are hoping to do even better this time around.

Both the four-player and mixed-doubles teams are in Gangneung, Korea, where they will compete in the SD Biosensor World Wheelchair Curling Championships, starting March 2.

A year ago, at home in Richmond, B.C., the four-player squad won the silver medal while the mixed-doubles duo picked up a bronze. Since then, both teams have been training hard and trying to hone the fine details of their games as they take on the best in the world.

The four-player squad is made up of Mark Ideson, Chrissy Molnar, Gil Dash, Jon Thurston and Ina Forrest.

Forrest is regarded as Canada’s greatest wheelchair curler. She has won three World Championship titles and two Paralympic gold medals, and was inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame in 2016.

Ideson, who calls the game but throws lead stones, has represented Canada in every World Championship since 2013. He and Forrest played in this same venue at the 2018 Paralympics where they won bronze.

Thurston, who made his World Championship debut in 2019, returns to the team for a sixth time and fifth as last-rock thrower. Dash is only in his second time at the worlds, but has a silver medal from last year’s championship on his resume. And new to the team is Molnar, who will rep the Maple Leaf for the first time in international competition.

“I feel like we’ve put a lot of good work in this year,” stated Ideson. “We’re in a familiar place having played in this venue a few times, so it kind of feels comfortable for Ina and I to be back here. Jon, Gil and Chrissy are acclimatizing well and excited to get out there. So assuming we can put our best foot forward, I think we’ll do pretty well.”

The team is focused on its on-ice performance and, along with head coach Mick Lizmore and team leader Kyle Paquette, has put together a plan that it hopes will guide it to success on the ice.

“Our goal is always to make the playoffs,” Ideson said. “The World Championship is a long, grueling week, so if we can land ourselves a decent spot after the round robin and make the playoffs, we’ll do everything we can to get to the top of the podium.”

But it’s not all about wins and losses. Being held in Korea means plenty of adjustments for the players. It also provides lots of opportunities to see a different part of the world.

“The biggest hurdle is probably the time difference,” commented Ideson, “but the food here in Korea has been great, the hospitality has been great, and it’s neat to be back in this venue. The only downside is we’re without our families this time who we had here during the Paralympics. But we’re excited to get started.”

There are 12 teams in the event with defending-champion China returning. It’s led by skip Wang Haitao, who has won two Paralympic gold medals and three World Championships.

The mixed doubles competition starts March 11, and Canada will be represented by an experienced duo, with both Dennis Thiessen and Collinda Joseph finding success in the team discipline in the past.

Thiessen is a Paralympic champion and a two-time Paralympic bronze medallist. Joseph has a bronze medal in the team event from the 2022 Paralympics.

“Our ultimate goal is to be on the podium,” stated Joseph. “However, we‘ve worked hard this past year on a lot of different facets of our game and we would like to use this opportunity to put them into practice. Success would be learning what worked and what needs to tweaked.”

As with the four-player team members, Joseph and Thiessen are preparing for the cultural experiences and the different food that will be available. It’s an opportunity for new experiences, although there will be a few treats along just in case.

“We’re also bringing things with us that will remind us of home,” Joseph said. “Like peanut butter and Nutella -- to be sure we’re comfortable!”

The mixed doubles has 21 teams entered. They will be split into three round-robin pools with Canada facing off with England, Italy, Slovenia, Switzerland and the United States. The top two teams in each group plus the two teams with the better Draw Shot Challenge move on to the quarter-finals.