Year three of the Rock The Rings youth bonspiel, hosted by NWT Curling, was on the ropes due to Covid-19 but believe it or not, it happened at around the same time as it did one year ago.
The annual youth event saw a total of 15 teams from the capital, Hay River and Inuvik hit the ice at the Yellowknife Curling Centre this past weekend for a chance to get in some competitive curling and get experience of what it’s like to be in a game situation.
The 15 teams competed in three age categories – U12, U15 and U20 – with championship games in each division. The U12 champions this year are the rink skipped by Jenny Murray of Yellowknife as she won out in the title contest on Sunday afternoon. Not only did Murray and company end up with the championship banner but also finished with a unblemished 5-0 record.
Murray said she was surprised with the final result.
“I thought we would only win one game,” she said.
Murray’s teammates, Ria Rogers and Aryalee Snyder, are brand new to the sport but she said both of them played really well all weekend long.
“Ria caught on really fast,” she said. “She just started this winter and she plays with me and Kalley (Chorostkowski) and Brooklyn (Hewitt).”
With her first win under her belt, Murray said she’s happy but isn’t looking too far ahead, like playing in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts one day.
“I’m not sure about that yet,” she said.
The U15 championship flew back to Inuvik as Mason MacNeil skipped his rink to victory while the U20 champs are Team Naugler, skipped by Adam Naugler, as they beat the rink skipped by Cassie Rogers in the final on Sunday, 10-3.
Tara Naugler, Team Naugler’s coach, said it was a battle between two very evenly-matched teams.
“It’s hard to predict what will happen whenever they meet because they’re so even,” she said. “I told the boys to be more aggressive in the final and they told me they were being aggressive all weekend.”
The boys had the advantage of opening up the final with last rock advantage and put it to good use as they scored four with the hammer.
Naugler said the boys thought about simply drawing for two but she saw a way in for more and called a time-out to talk to the boys.
“We were lying one and Rogers was second shot,” she said. “We had a lot of biters and there was a raise-hit there for four. The boys wanted to draw for two but if they pulled off the raise, it was four.”
Rogers’ rink, though, picked up the gauntlet and answered right back in the second end with three of their own to put the pressure right back on the boys.
“They crept up on us,” said Naugler. “We struggled to set up the end (to steal) and they capitalized on it.”
The third end was blanked before the boys put up three with the hammer in the fourth end to re-establish the four-point advantage at 7-3. Rogers had the hammer in the fifth end but came up short on a draw for a single against three Naugler stones, giving up a steal of three to the boys, which was enough for the girls to shake hands.
As mentioned, this year’s event happened around the same time as last year’s and while the 2020 edition managed to sneak in under the wire of Covid-19 cancellations, this year’s was very much up in the air.
Nick Saturnino, NWT Curling’s president, said the concern on the part of the territory’s chief public health officer was about the teams travelling to Yellowknife.
“Fortunately, with the mitigation standards and the rules we’re using under Curling Canada and the whole structure, we were able to get approval,” he said.
Even with the worrying about travel, there was never any question about non-Yellowknife teams making the trip, he added.
“I know the Inuvik teams wanted to come,” he said. “All of the junior curlers have been practicing hard all year and we were always going to come if we got the approval.”
Saturnino said this is one of the more important events on the curling calendar in the NWT and if it didn’t happen, it would have been a big disappointment for the players.
“We’re trying to grow this event,” he said. “In a perfect world, we’ll have 50 to 60 teams playing in this, eventually. Whether we ever get there or not is another thing but hopefully, we will.”
One thing being planned for next year is to have everything happen at the Multiplex in order to give the players an arena-like setting, similar to what players at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Tim Hortons Brier experience each year.
Saturnino said if it did happen, it would probably be at the end of the hockey season so as not to disrupt any scheduling.
“We’re looking at having the curling set-up in there for a week and maybe have an adult event or another one of our championships in there at the same time,” he said. “We’re just waiting to hear back about costs for installation and we’ll have a discussion with the city to see what the feasibility would be. It would give the kids something else to look forward to.”