On the 2023 BC Provincials
Grandy and Gauthier!
Hello friends. Sorry it’s been so long since a proper newsletter, but Christmas happened and then I got dreadfully ill but I just spent the last week at the BC Scotties and BC Men’s Championships in both an alternate capacity for The Islanders and a broadcast capacity for 6 games over the course of the weekend. BC curling tends to get a bad rap for some reason, but we’ve got plenty of talented teams and players, and the curling showcased this weekend was simply a joy to watch, both finals in particular. I think my heart rate still hasn’t dropped. Here’s what I saw from the last 5 days:
I have to start here because…well, my god, what a final. Just look at that scoreboard:
For those curling fans out there who hate blank ends or low-scoring games…I hope you were tuned in. The women’s championship was always likely to come down to Corryn Brown and Clancy Grandy (on one betting site, you could only bet on those two teams to win specifically, while you could make a bet on the other 6 teams combined clocking in at +350 odds) but I don’t think we expected this. Grandy starts the game with two steals and you think, oh no, maybe Team Brown just doesn’t have it today…and then they pop 5. Then the two teams exchanged a billion points and Grandy ended up winning in an extra end.
One particular thing I loved is in our post-game interview with Clancy we asked about the 5-ender and she said that her team loves to play aggressive and they know that when you play aggressively, you can surrender big ends. It’s a wild way to play (they gave up SIX to Brown in the 1/2 game and a steal of 3 to her in the A Final) but it’s clear that it’s something they’re comfortable with and it makes their games a hell of a lot of fun to watch. They’ve had one of the more surprising years on tour (who would’ve had them at #6 in Canada and #13 in the World when August rolled around) and their insane schedule truly paid off. They’ll have a chance to stack some Ws at the Scotties but I wonder if a more tempered style will be considered, given that it may not be so easy to come back from surrendering big ends against the country’s top teams.
For Team Brown, you simply have to feel devastated. The Scotties are in their hometown of Kamloops, BC, and given that Grandy may have gotten a Wild Card spot if they hadn’t won (they would’ve just needed any 2 of Homan/Jones/Lawes/Scheidegger to win their provincials), it had to feel extra painful. That said, their BC run last year was cut short in the 3/4 game and they were the best team in this field for virtually the entire week so it was nice bounce-back year for them, even if it didn’t end up in a W. I’m sure Corryn will be replaying her first shots in both the 10th and 11th end over in her head for a while. She makes either of those and I could be writing a different story.
All of that said, there haven’t been too many more partnerships that have lasted as long or been as fruitful as the Brown/Pincott/Fisher trifecta in the sport, and they’ll continue to be in BC Scotties finals for years to come. I thought the addition of Jim Cotter as their coach was a strong one, as he has a similar vibe that meshes well with the team and had them playing a little more aggressively than they have in years past, which I think suits them nicely. I believe Erin Pincott continues to fly under the radar as one of the country’s best thirds and this week was the best I’ve ever seen Sam Fisher play.
Speaking of flying under the radar, my Islanders teammate Corey Chester told me this week to pay attention to the shotmaking of his mixed doubles partner, Taylor Reese-Hansen. I’ve been familiar with Taylor throughout the years, as she regrettably beat me in the 2019 BC Mixed Final and she’s a former BC Junior champ, but I haven’t seen a ton of her actually playing in the past few seasons. I’ll say this: she’s good. Really good, in fact. She’s got all the shots in her locker but in particular she is very strong on runbacks and upweight shots, helping her team out of jams and into big scores. There was one game early in the week against Diane Gushulak where she was down 2 heading into the 10th end and then made an angled, double-run double on her first and a 8-footer straight back on her second to score 4 and win the game. She nearly made a 10-foot angle runner in the Women’s Semifinal against Grandy for 3 (she settled for 2), and while her team ended up losing in a big way in the semis, this week was a statement. I think if there’s a BC shakeup (I have no reason to believe there will be but you never know), she’s gotta be someone top BC skips will be getting on the phone to see if she’s available to play third. Or, you know…she could continue skipping and will absolutely be in the mix again next season.
On the Other Stuff: I hope Grandy has a nice run at the Scotties so the front end of Lindsay Dubue and Sarah Loken can get their due. If you’re putting together a list of underrated players, particularly ones under the age of 30, they’re near the top of it for me, for both brushing and throwing…It was fun to see Kristen Ryan get on a run. Her team didn’t play a ton this year, but Kristen told me she’s having fun curling again and it showed on the ice with her winning the sportsmanship award and making it all the way to the 3/4 game, which she narrowly lost. Wonder if we see a slight schedule uptick next season…In theory, past champion Sarah Wark has a lot of the pieces she needs to be successful with junior, Scotties, and mixed champions up and down the lineup. In practice, she’s playing a much lighter schedule and looked a step behind all weekend. If there is a BC mixup to occur, I wonder if it’s Sarah who tries to build a new squad and plays more next season to try and get back to the top of the mountain.
Here’s what I said in my review of the Nufloors Penticton Curling Classic about BC champion Team Gauthier:
With the departure of Tyler Tardi and the continued easing of schedule from Jim Cotter, BC has felt wide open to start the season. The Islanders drew first blood, making three qualifiers in Okotoks with Gauthier stumbling out of the starting blocks, but JG and the fellas have really turned it around with back-to-back semi-final finishes. Starting the year, they looked like the strongest BC squad on paper, and speaking with Jacques at the event, it’s clear the team just needed a little time to gel and perhaps now the ink is getting a little darker on that page. Picking up 50 points in two weekends is a good way to let everyone else know you’ve arrived.
Jacques referenced that conversation we had in Penticton in his post-championship interview, and it’s clear those two weeks—the semifinal finishes in Penticton and Swift Current—set the team’s identity and it was clear watching this week, they peaked at the right time. Even though they had two close games against Team Pierce, often when watching these events you get a sense of a team emerging as the class of the field, and they were in indeed that Chilliwack this weekend, without question. Even when the games were tight, even when Jacques was sick, it just didn’t feel like they were going to lose.
Speaking of Jacques being sick, how about the fairytale adversity they overcame during the week? Jason Ginter picked up a stomach bug on Wednesday night but managed to not miss a game despite barely sleeping and vomiting on the way to the rink for Thursday morning’s game. Thinking it was an isolated food poisoning incident, the bug got passed to Jacques Gauthier, who got even sicker a day later. With the illness emerging Friday night, Gauthier missed the Saturday morning 1/2 game—which Gauthier won with 3, Alex Horvath holding the broom and Sterling Middleton throwing last—and ended up needing a hospital visit for some bloodwork and an IV drip. He looked noticeably exhausted during Sunday’s final (watch this 5th end break interview and you can clearly see he’s hurting) but made two shots in the 9th end that would be the envy of any top skip, the first a takeout-double-rub where he needed to squeeze the opposition stone through the tiniest of imaginable ports and the second a finesse backline tap on a fully-buried Pierce stone. Those types of shots are how champions are made, and it was a thrilling conclusion to a wonderful week for those 4 young men.
Team Pierce had another great run to the finals and it might be fair to say that Brent himself is throwing as good as he ever has at age 53. Last year, the story was how the team only managed to play 4 games together before their provincial championship win due to COVID restrictions, and this year they weren’t globetrotters either, electing to only play events inside British Columbia. It didn’t seem to affect them much though, as they were very good all week and Brent also had two of the finer shots you’ll see back-to-back in the semifinal, as he made a freeze to a postage stamp and then a backline tap-and-roll to secure 3 and the victory against Jim Cotter. The back-end dynamic between Brent and Jeff Richard is certainly unique, but they make it work and I’ll be curious to see if they’re back next season. One thing is for sure: Nick Meister and Jared Kolomaya make a great front end and I think end up being the difference for Team Pierce in a lot of games.
Jim Cotter had another semifinal run with his squad, playing with childhood best friend Grant Olsen. They played a VERY limited schedule this season and with Jim playing a pretty busy mixed doubles schedule with his daughter Jaelyn AND coaching Team Corryn Brown, I wonder where they go from here. Semifinals feels like a fair ceiling for them when you combine how seldom they play and the talent in BC at the moment, and I wonder if that will continue to satisfy the whole squad.
And finally, Cody Tanaka was potentially a surprise entrant into the playoffs, as he moved up from playing second last year for Sebastien Robillard to skipping his own, very young team, but they looked great all week. And that’s both figuratively AND literally, as their Samurai-inspired jackets were the class of both the men’s and women’s fields. Seriously, look at these bad boys:
With an average age under 25, they played like veterans and sometimes there’s something to be said for defying expectations and playing with no pressure. Cody himself made a plethora of nasty business shots, and they were extremely fun to watch. Hopefully they’ll stick together and be back next season.
On the Other Stuff: I was indeed the fifth for The Islanders this week, and perhaps they made a poor decision as my history of losing may have cursed them to a 1-3 finish. Definitely a disappointing end to the season that really came down to a handful of missed shots in all 3 losses, but there isn’t a team in BC that outworks them and hopefully there’s some solace in that. Hopefully they will be back…I was particularly impressed with Team Fenton skip Adam Fenton. The son of former BC Men’s champ Brad and still eligible for U18s, it was amazing to watch him play this week (despite his team eliminating us). Incredible confidence, throws the big weight extremely well, and has a great team behind him. I’ve seen this movie before, and the star of it was Tyler Tardi. This kid’s future looks to be that bright…Team Fenton’s coach? Fuji Miki. You cannot say enough about what Fuji has done for junior curling in both Canada and Japan, and it’s remarkable how much of a calming influence he has on any team he works with. It’s obvious the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree either, as Bryan Miki—former Brier and World champion—coached Team Gauthier and I see many of the same hallmarks in his coaching as I do in Fuji’s. BC is blessed to have them both…With disappointing finishes for a lot of the teams that might have felt like they had the skills to make a playoff run—teams like Robillard, de Jong, Geall, et. al.—I bet we see a few sticks of dynamite dropped into the BC team blender this offseason. I think there’s an outside chance not a single team is the same going into next season outside of Team Gauthier.
Hard to believe we’ll have to wait another year! Thankfully we’ve got about a month solid of provincial playdowns to watch, and there’s nothing better than watching teams compete to represent their province on the biggest stage. If you want to follow me on Twitter, you can do that at @cullenoncurling, and if you want this newsletter delivered to your inbox every time it is published, hit the SUBSCRIBE link in the top corner.
Also, if you missed it last week, Way Inside! 3 with John Epping came out. We had an awesome chat about his long wait to make the Brier, his coming out story, what it’s like being named John, and his new team. It’s available wherever you get your podcasts on the Inside Curling feed.