SASKATOON — The reactions of two prominent men’s curlers said it all on Monday afternoon at the Canadian Olympic trials.
First, you had Matt Dunstone, the young gun skip from the host province, smashing his broom after losing his third straight game and falling to the brink of elimination.
Shortly after you had Darren Moulding, the third on Brendan Bottcher’s Brier-winning team, choking up as he tried to express his feelings about being 0-3 so early in the biggest event in Canadian curling.
These are men who have devoted the last four years of their lives to try to get to this point and now that they are here, absolutely nothing has gone their way.
“There’s worse things in life than losing a curling game but it’s disappointing,” Moulding said, before taking a moment to fight off the welling emotion.
“We’ll be alright. We’ll be fine.”
The Bottcher foursome won the Brier earlier this year after losing the previous three national finals. The hope was that breakthrough would lead them to an Olympic appearance as well, but the chances of that are very slim now.
“There’s no easy fix,” Moulding said after a 5-2 loss to Brad Jacobs (3-0) Monday at SaskTel Centre.
“We’ve had lots of meetings and we’re all trying to figure it out. There’s nothing other than ‘Get out there, dust yourself off, play again, and get a win.’
“We’re in trouble, there’s no doubt about it. We have to find a way to just get a win and go from there.”
Things have gone horribly for Dunstone, the Regina skip who is a fan favourite this week but has been scrambling since the days before the event after having to replace long-time third Braeden Moskowy (personal reasons) with Colton Lott at the last minute.
Dunstone fell 10-3 to Kevin Koe (2-1) on Monday and has a massive hill to climb to have any chance of making the playoffs.
“You can only go up,” a stoic Dunstone said. “We’re doing a lot of the right things out there but we’ve got to make more shots in key situations.
“At the end of the day, 5-3 is going to get you something really good in this field.”
Dunstone made one of the best shots of the tournament so far on Monday. His long raise double gave his team two points and created a big-time buzz in the building.
“That was a pretty cool moment, just to hear those fans erupt again,” Dunstone said. “Looking back, that’s one of the moments I’ll remember from these trials.
“Moving forward, hopefully, we can do that a little more often — give them lots more to cheer about. We’re leaving the ice and they’re still cheering us on. To have their support regardless is definitely going to keep us going.”
TWO BRADS ROLLING
The two Brads — Gushue and Jacobs — are tied atop the men’s standings, with 3-0 records.
The two Olympic gold medallists (Gushue in 2006, Jacobs in 2014) have looked surgical in their performances so far and are the early favourites to be playing in the playoffs this weekend.
Jacobs beat Bottcher on Monday, while Gushue outlasted John Epping 8-6.
“It’s always nice to get a bunch of wins early,” said Jacobs. “I’m impressed with how we’re managing ourselves as athletes and the collective that we’re bringing to the ice each and every game is just great to see and it’s a lot of fun to be a part of.
“The last event we played in, the (Grand Slam National), we went 1-3 and we all said ‘This might be the best thing for us cause we all needed to sharpen up some things.’ And we did. We’re always trying to get better, we’re always trying to improve, as athletes and as people, and that’s gonna be our mindset forever.”
Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen, the 2017 Trials finalist, is right behind the Brads at 2-0 after beating Jason Gunnlaugson 11-2 on Monday.
“We had trouble starting in the Slams this year,” McEwen said. “We found ourselves on the C-side very quickly.
“I felt that’s the biggest difference from now to those last two Slams — we haven’t dug ourselves a hole. We’re on the A-side right now and you don’t want to dig yourself a hole out here. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, if you’re on the C-side, you’re gonna play somebody good and that’s the biggest difference. We’ve had a really good start at this event.”
McEwen has never won a national championship but always seems to do well at the Olympic trials.
“This one, like in Ottawa in 2017, I feel really calm, just kinda chill right now,” McEwen said. “Hopefully that lasts through the week. Hopefully I can keep that going for the guys. It’s probably easier to play for me.”
Kevin Koe, a 2018 Olympian, is not far behind the front-runners at 2-1. His team looked very strong in beating Dunstone.
“That was our best game for sure,” Koe said. “We’re 2-1 and we didn’t play great against Gushue on Sunday. It’s sometimes good, knowing you’re not playing your best but you’re in all the games. We’re 2-1 so we’re in a good spot. With the conditions out there, I think it suits our style a bit more and hopefully we keep getting better.”
CAMERON OUT WITH ILLNESS
For the first time in these trials, a player missed a game due to illness on Monday night.
Kate Cameron, the third for Edmonton’s Laura Walker, was forced to sit out a game against Kerri Einarson and was replaced by alternate player Erin Pincott.
Cameron, and all members of the Walker team, tested negative for COVID-19, and Curling Canada’s chief medical officer assessed her and said her symptoms are not believed to be related to the coronavirus.
Team Walker has a day off on Tuesday.
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Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones leads the women’s standings, with a 4-0 record, after beating Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Alta., 7-5 Monday night.
She’s just ahead of another Manitoba team, skipped by Tracy Fleury, which is at 3-0.
Fleury curled 100% in a 9-2 win over Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay.
Meanwhile, two-time Canadian champion Kerri Einarson and 2018 Olympian Rachel Homan got back on track with big wins Monday night.
Homan (1-2) topped Kelsey Rocque of Edmonton 9-6 to record her first win of the week, while Einarson beat Edmonton’s Laura Walker 9-5 to improve her record to 2-2.
PAPERING THE ROCKS
Last year at the Brier in the bubble in Calgary, there was a controversy when ice-makers applied sandpaper to the curling rocks but didn’t tell every single one of the curlers.
This year, it was made clear to everyone on Sunday that the rocks would be “papered” that night, with the purpose of creating more curl for the competition, and it seems all of the competitors were on board.
“Since they touched up the rocks a bit there’s a little more curl,” Koe said. “We were missing a lot of shots on the high side, the straight side. It just seemed it was a little straighter for some shots than we’re used to. This is more what we practice on and it just seems more natural to our eye and helps our confidence.
“Good on them for recognizing that it was probably a little too straight. It’s only Monday and it was only gonna get straighter, so to touch them up now was probably good timing and it should be good for the rest of the week.”
It was unusual for the rocks to be touched up so early in the event. Most times something like that would be done on the Wednesday of an event, before the start of the playoffs.
“It’s earlier than normal, but at the same time you don’t want it to ever be too late,” Koe said. “You don’t want to come Thursday, Friday, when teams are six games in and then do it. If you know you’re gonna do it, you might as well get it done with. Hopefully, they don’t have to consider doing it again. I think it was a good decision. It was good, and fair, that everyone got to practice before playing today. Everybody knew. No surprises.”
It was a strange situation for McEwen. His team played its first game on Saturday and then had Sunday off before coming back to rocks that were behaving differently.
“For sure it’s abnormal, it’s early,” McEwen said. “I was concerned about how early it was, particularly because we had only played one game and then they’re papering the rocks. (Ice-maker) Greg (Ewasko) is the expert and if he feels papering them on Sunday night is going to last through the week — that’s what we’re hoping for — hopefully, that’s gonna work out very well.”
Jones 7, Scheidegger 5
Fleury 9, McCarville 2
Homan 9, Rocque 6
Einarson 9, Walker 5
McEwen 11, Gunnlaugson 2
Jacobs 5, Bottcher 2
Gushue 8, Epping 6
Koe 10, Dunstone 3