Golden boys: Hawks curling wins national championship
KELOWNA, B.C. — They had their sights set on it all year.
The Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks men’s curling team entered the gold medal game against the Alberta Golden Bears with national gold in the headlights all year. After last year’s disappointing loss at nationals, the men were motivated to turn it around this year and the entire team came back to give nationals another go. And with a semifinal victory against the Victoria Vikes in the morning draw, the squad set up a rematch with the Golden Bears for a chance to win the Canadian Interuniversity Sport gold medal.
And this year, they made no mistake. The Hawks defeated the Golden Bears 7-4 in thrilling fashion. Capturing silver and bronze the last two years, the rink made the one final step up the podium to claim national gold.
And for fifth-year skip Aaron Squires, it was a long time coming.
“We’ve worked really hard and to finally pull it off with this group of guys, it’s an amazing feeling. I can’t describe it in words,” he said.
Squires said the team set their goals high coming into this year knowing that if they worked hard and if they did what they’ve done in the past, they’d give themselves another opportunity to win nationals.
And that’s what they did.
Head coach Glenn Paulley predicted this year would feature a Laurier-Alberta final, and he was correct. If there was a game to lose in the round robin, it was the game against Alberta.
“In hindsight I take a look at the round robin and if there was a game to lose it was the game against Alberta because that was such motivation for the guys. That was their worst performance of the week and they knew it,” he said. “That was the additional motivation they needed to really focus, reset and turn it on and in the final game they were absolutely outstanding.”
The rink took the lead off a steal in the second end and followed that up with another in the third. Alberta surrendered hammer in the fourth and cut into the lead with a single, but Laurier rebounded back in a very chaotic fifth end that completely swung the momentum into the Hawks’ favour when they took a deuce.
Like Paulley has said all week, once Laurier has the lead, they don’t relinquish it. Which was especially true in the morning semifinal.
The evening draw against Alberta was a different story. Because the Golden Bears finished first, they got choice of stones and hammer in the first end. So the Hawks made some adjustments.
“Because we didn’t have hammer, then decided to play the first end a little more conservatively. Be patient. Learn the ice, get the feel of draw weight, put some pressure on, make some shots,” he said. “Hence we stole one in two and stole one in three, and once again got that two-point lead, playing the fourth end, and all of a sudden now the shoe’s on the other foot.”
And they pulled it off. After picking up the deuce in the fifth end, the Golden Bears picked up a single in the sixth and then Laurier punished them in the seventh with another deuce to take a commanding 6-2 lead.
After stealing another in the eighth end, the Bears picked up a deuce in the ninth to cut the lead to three but surrendered hammer while doing so, conceding the game.
“They were outstanding, and as I’ve said all year, these are really good players,” Paulley said about his team. “Consistently underrated at the men’s level I would argue. But good players with a long curling career ahead of them.”
And the journey isn’t over for the men. The CIS gold medallists move on to represent Canada at the 2017 Federation Internationale du Sport Universitaire Winter Universiade, held in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Squires said that it hasn’t really sunk in yet that the rink gets to go to Kazakhstan to represent their country on the university level.
“None of us have had that opportunity,” Squires said. “I think it’ll be really special to represent Canada and Laurier.”