The 2023 Canada Winter Games are still a year out but there are two teams that we know will be making the trip to Charlottetown next year.

The boys and girls curling trials happened in Yellowknife and there were some similarities attached to both. Both were best-of-five series with the first team to win three games being declared the winner. Both ended on March 3. Both featured teams from Inuvik: the girls event was an all-Inuvik battle between skips Reese Wainman and Pearl Gillis while Mason MacNeil of Inuvik took on Yellowknife’s Jullian Bowling.

The difference came in the final outcomes as Wainman managed to defeat Gillis in four games while MacNeil dropped three straight to Bowling.

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 March 1. 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 March 3 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.

Game one of the boys event was on March 2 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.

MacNeil said it wasn’t the way he was expecting it to go, especially coming off playing in the NWT Men’s Curling Championship and getting some extra games.

“I thought we’d come down with a good chance after we played the men’s teams,” he said.

One big thing which affected MacNeil’s line-up was the omission of second John Voudrach, who came down with Covid-19. He didn’t make the trip in for trials but there was the hope that he would be healthy enough to play in the NWT U18 Championships, which happened immediately after the trials.

The U18 event featured MacNeil and Bowling going at it for a second time with the winner of that moving on to the Canadian U18 Curling Championships in Oakville, Ont., in May. Wainman and Gillis were also entered on the girls side with Yellowknife’s Cassie Rogers rounding out the field.

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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