The 2023 Canada Winter Games in Charlottetown are still around a year away but one of the sports playing for Team NT has already punched its ticket for the charter as the curling trials wrapped up at the Yellowknife Curling Centre on Thursday afternoon.

Jullian Bowling and his rink of Shawn Dragon, Tasir Bhuiyan and Ian Gau will be on the plane to Prince Edward Island after winning the boys curling trials at the Yellowknife Curling Centre on Thursday afternoon. They defeated the rink skipped by Inuvik’s Mason MacNeil by winning three straight in the best-of-five series between the two teams. Only the best-of-five was needed as they were the only two teams to enter.

Bowling said he wasn’t expecting to do it in three straight, especially after the second game on Wednesday.

“We were a little rocky in that one but we came back strong (in game three),” he said.

Game one was on Wednesday morning and it was a back-and-forth affair with Bowling jumping out to a 3-0 lead with the hammer in the first end, only to have MacNeil answer back with four of his own in the second to take a 4-3 lead. A steal of one in the third end for MacNeil increased that lead to 5-3 before Bowling scored a deuce in the fourth to get it back to 5-5. MacNeil would score a single in the fifth but Bowling would put up three in the sixth with last rock to take an 8-6 lead. Bowling would steal another in the seventh to go up, 9-6, and MacNeil was only able to put up a single in the eighth, giving Bowling the 9-7 win.

Game two that afternoon saw MacNeil start with the hammer and score a single to open things up, followed by Bowling scoring three in the second end to jump out in front, 3-1. MacNeil, though, had a big end of his own as he scored four with the hammer to retake the lead, 5-3. Bowling would score a single in the fourth to cut the deficit to 5-4 but he would steal in both the fifth and sixth ends to go back in front, 6-5. MacNeil tied it in the seventh with a single but Bowling put up a deuce in the eighth and final end to win, 8-6.

In the eventual deciding game, Bowling began with hammer and scored three in the first, which MacNeil answered with a single in the second. Another three for Bowling in the third made it 6-1 with both teams trading singles in the fourth and fifth ends. MacNeil had a big end set up in the sixth as he sat three with the hammer but Bowling executed a perfect freeze on a MacNeil rock in the four-foot to lie one. MacNeil attempted a runback to salvage the end but it didn’t work as Bowling stole and that was enough for MacNeil to shake hands after six, giving Bowling an 8-2 win and the spot in Charlottetown.

“That (freeze) was the only shot I had,” said Bowling. “We just had to make sure we didn’t let our guard down with a big lead.”

Coach Tara Naugler’s strategy for that last end was simple: hope the boys kept knocking rocks out of the rings.

“Just maintain that lead, which can be the hardest thing to do in curling sometimes,” she said. “Jullian is really good at throwing those high-pressure shots and I had no doubt that he could make (the freeze).”

On the girls side, Reese Wainman won the all-Inuvik battle over Pearl Gillis in a best-of-five series, 3-1.

Wainman, who competed in the NWT U20 Championships last month, said her rink had put in a lot of work between then and now.

“We’ve been working really hard for the past few weeks for this,” she said. “The past few years, even.”

Game one of the girls event was on Tuesday. Wainman started with the hammer and scored a deuce in the first end to take the early lead. From there, both teams traded singles in ends two through six before Gillis stole two in the seventh to go out in front, 5-4. Another steal of one in the eighth end sealed it for Gillis as she drew first blood, 6-4.

Game two the following morning saw Gillis start with last rock and she scored a single to take a 1-0 lead after one. Wainman rebounded with a deuce in the second end, which was answered by Gillis in the third with a single, which was answered by another deuce for Wainman in the fourth as she took a 4-2 lead at the mid-game break. Wainman then stole three in the fifth and another in the sixth, which was enough for Gillis to shake hands and give Wainman an 8-2 win.

Game three that afternoon was the closest of them all and a game in which theft was the plot. Wainman scored two with the hammer in the first, followed by a steal of one in the second and another steal of two in the third to take a 5-0 lead. Gillis would score a deuce in the fourth and then steal three of her own in the fifth to tie the game at 5-5. Wainman would retake the lead in the sixth by scoring two, followed by a steal of one in the seventh to go up 8-5. But Gillis had the hammer coming home and she would get the three she needed to tie the game and send it into an extra end. Wainman would get her one with last rock to claim victory, 9-8.

The fourth contest on Thursday featured both rinks putting up big ends. Wainman kicked things off with a single in the opening end but Gillis would throw down a four-spot in the second to go up, 4-1. Wainman, though, got all that back and then some in the third, scoring five to go back out in front, 6-4. After blanks in four and five, Gillis would get one with the hammer to cut the deficit to 6-5 before Wainman scored a deuce with hammer in the seventh to extend the lead to 8-5. Wainman would run Gillis out of rocks in the eighth end to secure both the title and the seats on the charter to Charlottetown.

Wainman said her team was executing their shots a lot better this time, something which didn’t always happen last month.

“The other team was playing really well (but) we were just executing a lot of our shots compared to the last time,” she said.

The loss in game one didn’t faze the girls at all, she added.

“It was just the first game and we knew we had four more to go, so we still had a really good chance” she said. “We knew every game, we would be improving on what we did wrong the last game.”

This will be the only chance Wainman and her rink of Alex Testart-Campbell, Brooke Smith and Whitney Kasook will have to play at the Canada Winter Games as they will all be too old to qualify for 2027.

Wainman said she’s really looking forward to it.

“This is bigger than anything we’ve ever played in,” she said.

James McCarthy

After being a nomad around North America following my semi-debauched post-secondary days, I put down my roots in Yellowknife in 2006. I’ve been keeping this sports seat warm with NNSL for the better...

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