No junior nationals and no travel last season makes curlers something something.

At least this season, there will be some travel for the juniors and a couple of rinks will be in the air on Saturday to Saskatoon for the first big event of the season.

It’s the World Juniors Qualifier, hosted by Curling Canada, and the NWT will be represented by rinks from the Yellowknife Curling Centre. Cassie Rogers will be skipping the girls rink of Chasity O’Keefe, Kali Skauge and Grace Twa while Jullian Bowling will get his first taste of skipping at the national level as he leads his rink of Shawn Dragon, Tasir Bhuiyan and Ian Gau into battle on the boys side.

This event is a make-up for no 2021 Canadian Juniors due to the pandemic and will determine who gets the chance to go to the 2022 World Junior Curling Championships in Jönköping, Sweden this coming March.

The boys will go into the bonspiel ranked 10th out of 12 while the girls are seeded 12th. Those rankings were determined on how each province and territory performed at the last Canadian Juniors in Langley, B.C., in January 2020.

Tara Naugler will be coaching the boys entry and said it’s a young squad that will be on the ice but an excited bunch, nonetheless, and they’re ready.

“The amount of curling you got last season depends on where you were and we were fortunate that we curled a lot last year,” she said. “We have a couple of line-up changes but the boys are excited for the challenge.”

Adam Naugler was the original skip but he’s away at university and wasn’t able to play, hence Bowling jumping in to throw skip stones, she added.

It will be pool play to start off with the 12 rinks divided into two pools of six. After pool play, the top three teams in each pool will advance to the playoffs with the first-place team in each pool getting a bye to the semifinal round.

The boys will square off with Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, B.C. and Saskatchewan in their pool and Naugler said it’s a one-game-at-a-time process.

“We’re just going to focus on the game we’re playing at the time and see where that takes us,” she said. “We aren’t looking ahead to certain teams.”

For the girls, their pool play competition consists of Manitoba, New Brunswick, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and Northern Ontario.

They, too, will be taking it one game at a time, said Brian Kelln, the team’s coach.

“We don’t look at who we can beat because if you start doing that, you’ll probably end up having a disappointing game,” he said. “We have the concept that if we play well, keep it close and strategize, we can pull off a win.”

Rogers and company have been together for a while now — this is the same team which went to the Canadian U18 Championships two years ago and managed to keep some of the other teams in check throughout.

Kelln figures they’ve matured since then and are at the point where they can be competitive.

“We have the potential to be in every game,” he said. “When you talk to them, there’s no fear and one of our players even feels we can win two or three games. I look at things with the glass half-full and if we can adapt to the ice quickly, we can catch a team off-guard.”

Both teams have had the chance to get in some playing time over the past few weeks but practice was tough due to the regulations surrounding Covid-19. Only one player was allowed on a sheet at a time and that meant creativity had to come into play.

“We had some delays because of the recent outbreak,” said Naugler. “It was tough to coach because I would sometimes be one or two sheets away from the boys and we had some fake brooms out so the boys had something to aim at. We got around it.”

While in Saskatoon, both teams plan to take in some of the action at the Tim Hortons Canadian Trials, which will be happening at the same time. The plan for both is to take in the Sunday afternoon action, where Kevin Koe will be playing Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador.

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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