Laurier curling starts preparing for Alberta

Photo by Will Huang

Photo by Will Huang

Glenn Paulley knows there will be no easy games during the 2016 Canadian Interuniversity Sport curling nationals.

Set in Kelowna, B.C., this year, the Wilfrid Laurier men’s and women’s varsity rinks are preparing for the highest pinnacle in university sport. Eight of the top teams in Canada will play for CIS gold. This year’s installment sees some familiar faces, as the Dalhousie Tigers swept both the men’s and women’s events in the Atlantic University Sport conference and the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack almost went undefeated on the women’s side in the Canada West University Athletics Association conference to earn their berth.

But it also means the return of the 2015 CIS champions — the University of Alberta, headed by skips Thomas Scoffin and Kelsey Rocque.

“Out of the seven teams we are facing I would certainly say that our focus is going to be on Alberta,” Paulley said. “We fully expect to see Alberta in the playoffs.”

The men’s rink played a close gold medal match against Scoffin and the University of Alberta in March 2015, earning CIS silver after a shot by Aaron Squires hit Scoffin’s rock an inch off its target. The Hawks then missed scoring two in the final end for the win.

Alberta got stronger this year with the addition of third Karsten Sturmay, who skipped Team Alberta’s junior championship team. His teammate Tristan Steinke will act as third, with second Jason Ginter and lead Parker Konschuh rounding out the Bears’ roster.

And if Paulley was a betting man, he’d call for a Laurier-Alberta final again.

“There’s going to be a number of good teams out there, but as far as we’re concerned with the seven other teams that are out there, you’d have to think Alberta as the top of those other seven,” he said.

Nationals also hosts some new faces too. On the men’s side, the University of Victoria Vikes and the University of British Columbia Okanagan Heat represent the west alongside Alberta, while the St. Mary’s Huskies round out the berths from the AUS. The Waterloo Warriors and Brock Badgers represent the Ontario University Athletics conference with Laurier.

On the women’s side, the Brandon University Bobcats join Alberta and Thompson Rivers from the west while the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds comes from the east. The Brock Badgers and the Guelph Gryphons join Laurier in representing the OUA.

Paulley said a few of the teams he’s watching out for are the Vikes and the Tigers — the Vikes are coached by Canadian champion and Olympian Melissa Soligo, while the Tigers men’s rink swept the AUS championships.

“We haven’t had a lot of experience with Victoria, they were not at CIS last year or the year before as far as I know. We’ll see what that’s going to be like but with Melissa [Soligo] coaching you know it’s going to be a very coached team.”

As for the women’s side, Paulley also is being mindful of Thompson Rivers and Corryn Brown, the Tigers and the Badgers.

“There’s lots of good teams and the girls will have to be playing at their best to make playoffs,” he said.

One of the biggest concerns Paulley has is that the CIS has not made a decision on what kinds of brooms are allowed to be used. During the OUA championship, the men’s team used two lightspeed brooms with one hair broom, but with the use of hair brooms not allowed during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Tim Hortons Brier this year, there’s a chance the CIS will also impose a ban on hair brooms for the championships.

“We’ve experimented with a couple of new brooms, so that we’re ready regardless of how the decision goes,” he said.

Needless to say, Paulley said that he still likes his chances for both rinks to make playoffs among the wide pool of talent attending nationals this year.

The first draw is set to kick off at 1 p.m. pacific standard time, 4 p.m. eastern time at the Kelowna Curling Club, on March 20. The Hawks men’s team will face UBC Okanagan while the women’s rink faces Brandon.

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