Young Northern Ontario curlers face off in Little Current playdowns

Team Senecal of Thessalon shares some smiles during the warm-up time on Friday night. This rink would go on to win the region four boys’ title and advance to provincials.

LITTLE CURRENT—In addition to the Winterfest activities at the Little Current-Howland Recreation Centre this past weekend, the Little Current Curling Club was also an action-packed place to be as 11 rinks from across Northern Ontario competed in the under-18 regional Northern Ontario Curling Association (NOCA) playdowns.

“It was a great event. The rinks played their hearts out,” said organizer John Hodder who is part of NOCA.

“Last year we had the big event over on the other side (of the rec centre), and this is the next level up,” said Mr. Hodder. “This is region four and five, and the winners of that go on to the provincials.” 

The young rinks that took part in the event were from as far as Sault Ste. Marie to the west and North Bay to the east—regions five and six stretch between Sault Ste. Marie and Mattawa. The curlers said they were excited to show off their abilities and compete at this level.

“It seems like it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ve never been to regionals before,” said Avery McMillan, vice on team Costello from Sault Ste. Marie. She was joined by skip Nicole Costello, second Jayna Petingola, lead Ashlyn Acorn and coach Steve Acorn.

“This is our first year curling competitively, but we’ve been curling together for a while,” Avery said.

The excitement extended beyond the players, too. Head umpire Debbie Fortin began officiating in 1987 and said she particularly enjoys officiating the younger age group.

“A lot of these kids I’ve seen since they started curling and I’ve watched them develop through the years. And I really enjoy that, watching the kids develop and see them change,” said Ms. Fortin, who is based in Sudbury.

Little Current hosted the men’s provincials last year, an event Mr. Hodder also helped to organize.

“We didn’t have as much space this year so I didn’t advertise the event,” he said. “Last year, we advertised and the seats were full all the time. We had over 10,000 people that attended—that was just walk-in people.”

“Brad Jacobs and the other players said they couldn’t believe it, because they’re not used to coming to a place where the stands are full,” Mr. Hodder said.

It’s all hands on deck as the team of four timekeepers prepare their systems for the upcoming matches. Scott Mosher is performing a double duty tonight as both timekeeper and bagpiper. photos by Warren Schlote

Lead Trent Smith on team Senecal of Thessalon said his team is focused on a victory.

“We’re looking for the ‘W’ like always—it’s always good to win,” he said.

“We just gotta take control of the game and make sure it’s played our way—we gotta play our own game,” added Tucker West, the team’s second. Connor Frolick was Team Senecal’s vice, Marcus Senecal rounded out the ranks as skip and Heather Senecal was the coach.

Trent is a new addition to the team for this year, but the other three have been playing together competitively for five years. Last year, they ranked third in the provincials.

“We’d like to thank Manitoulin for hosting. It seems like it’s going to be a great event,” said Marcus.

“And, we’d like to thank our sponsors for helping us get here,” added Tucker.

Although there were no teams from Manitoulin in this year’s regionals, Mr. Hodder said the community support has still been strong in organizing the event.

“You go up to people, ask them to volunteer, they agree and it all comes together,” said Mr. Hodder. “Magic happens.”

Four rinks emerged victorious at the end of the regional meet. In region four, team May from Blind River took the girls’ title and Team Hales from Sault Ste. Marie took the boys’ title. In region five, team O’Bright of North Bay took the boys’ title and team Crosier of Sudbury took the girls’ title.

These four teams will be among the 16 from across Northern Ontario advancing to this year’s provincial championship. From there, the winning boys’ and girls’ teams will advance to the Canadian championship from April 2 to 7 in Sherwood Park, Alberta.

“It’s quite an experience for any of them to get to a national event and start to see the rest of the country and where they sit,” said Ms. Fortin.

The under-18 provincials take place in Fort Frances from March 7 to 10.