Stick curling is going mainstream at this weekend’s P.E.I. provincial curling club championships
A team from the Western Community Curling Club in Alberton is about to make provincial and, possibly, national curling history in being the first all-stick team to play in a provincial curling championship that leads to a Curling Canada championship event. The provincial event will take place at the Maple Leaf Curling Club in O’Leary.
The Journal Pioneer heard back from 11 provincial and territorial associations indicating they’ve never had an all-stick team compete in a regular provincial championship, and a Curling Canada official said he’s never heard of it happening before. Some associations reported having individual curlers using delivery sticks in curling club championship, or masters championship, competitions, but never a full team of stick curlers, other than in stick curling-specific events.
In Ontario, Andrew Denny-Petch said CurlOn has a four-person stick provincial championship and a two-person stick championship that was just introduced in Ontario this year.
“We have a couple stick curlers, but no all team stick curlers,” reports Laura Eby, executive director of the Yukon Curling Association.
Similar responses came from other associations.
Steve Routledge, tournaments co-ordinator for the Newfoundland and Labrador Curling Association, said he was not aware of it ever happening, but he knows for certain it hasn’t happened in the provincial curling club championship in his province.
The team of John Vincent, who throws skip rocks; Roger Gavin who throws third and calls the game; second stone Walter Callaghan, and lead Eddie Bernard beat out two other teams in the double-knockout club championship to win the right to represent the Alberton club at the provincial championship at the neighbouring Maple Leaf Curling Club in O’Leary.
Callaghan, the senior member of the team who turns 80 this year, is perhaps the most excited about the history-making appearance.
“The first-time all-stick team,” he commented.
“That was your goal,” skip Gavin reminded him. It came in their fifth or sixth try at winning the right to be the club’s representative.
At 53, Gavin is the youngest player on the team, but he also brings the most curling experience, almost 40 years in the game including a half-dozen provincial Tankard appearances, all coming before he made the switch to a delivery stick about a decade ago.
All four curlers play in the regular curling draws in Alberton, all using delivery sticks to send their rocks down the ice, but picking up the brooms when their teammates, stick and regular curlers alike, are throwing. Three of the team members usually throw skip rocks on their four-person teams while Bernard normally sets up the end with his first-stone throws. They are expecting to have to do more sweeping than usual.
“We’re trying to figure a way around that,” Callaghan chuckled before admitting the team relies heavily on Vincent and Bernard’s sweeping abilities.
All four members of the Alberton team also participate in two-person stick curling competitions. Vincent and Callaghan have won five provincial stick titles together.
Vincent admits they have to approach the provincial curling club championship a little bit differently than a stick event.
“You’ve got to be on your game,” he said, noting curlers get to throw six rocks an end in stick curling but they each have only two throws per end in regular curling.
The Western Community Curling Club team is casual about its hopes in O’Leary. “If we could win a game or two, it would be nice,” Callaghan remarks.
They’ve already won three straight playoff games to win the club competition, including two wins over a team that has three members back from the 2015 provincial men’s curling club championship team.
The Alberton 2019 representatives are part of a close to 20-member stick curling fraternity in Alberton. They make up about half of the stick curlers in the club who also play the traditional game, albeit with a delivery stick.
Rules for the curling club championship event specifically mention that the use of a delivery stick is permissible by any or all team members in the provincial and national championship event.