Young’s team hopes to build off Brier experience at Canadian junior playdowns
Nathan Young’s Newfoundland and Labrador team had some of the best seats in the house to watch Brad Gushue win another Tim Hortons Brier.
The 19-year-old skip and his teammates sat on the hockey bench along the boards at the Enmax Centre on the final weekend, soaking up every moment of their first appearance at the national men’s curling championship.
Earlier in the competition, they won their first Brier game, played in front of large crowds for the first time and became fan favourites along the way. Now they hope to build on that experience at the Canadian junior curling championships starting Friday at the Stratford Rotary Complex.
“I think they’ve gained a little bit of confidence in what they can accomplish,” said coach Jeff Thomas.
Young, Sam Follett, Nathan Locke and Ben Stringer are one of two Newfoundland and Labrador entries in the 18-team men’s field. There are 14 member association teams, the Ontario host team and three other teams based on two-year rolling berth spots.
The women’s field also includes 18 teams, with the top three teams in each nine-team pool advancing to the playoffs. The finals are set for April 1.
Young’s side earned a win over Yukon’s Thomas Scoffin in its Brier debut for the team’s lone round-robin victory.
With Gushue not in the provincial field due to the Winter Games schedule, Young’s side took advantage and earned the N.L. berth with a victory over Greg Smith.
However, the main priority this season for Young, Follett, Locke, and Stringer — the oldest of the bunch at age 20 — has always been the Canadian juniors.
“The Brier was a huge bonus for us and a great experience,” Young said. “But at the end of the day, this is the event that we’ve been preparing for all year.”
Young said the players got a first-hand look at the difference in draw weight and sweeping skills while competing at the Brier, which Gushue won for the fourth time in six years.
It also took some time to get used to the two or three feet of extra curl on arena ice, he added.
“For us to be able to play eight Brier games and a couple of practices is huge in preparing us for probably similar ice conditions in Stratford, Ontario,” Young said. “We found at the Brier every single game we were adapting to the ice better.”
The pandemic wiped out the last two editions of the under-21 championship.
Young took silver at a replacement event of sorts — dubbed a world junior qualifier — last fall in Saskatoon. That competition was used to determine the Canadian entries in this May’s world juniors.
Only 21 of the 154 curlers in this year’s field have competed at a national U21 event before. The winning teams will represent Canada at the 2023 world junior curling championship.
Curling Canada expanded the field due to last year’s cancelled national championship. Nunavut is not sending a team in either event and Yukon is not sending a men’s team.
Coupled with team entries for two-year rolling berths, the extra spots in the women’s draw include Alberta 2, Nova Scotia 2, Manitoba 2 and Quebec 2.