Planting a seed in ice and rocks

With half of the ice at the Whitehorse Curling Club to themselves on Monday night, the Yukon’s Canada Games boys curling team practised…

With half of the ice at the Whitehorse Curling Club to themselves on Monday night, the Yukon’s Canada Games boys curling team practised throwing rocks for weight and accuracy, talked strategy … and did some pushups.

After all, it wouldn’t be practice without pushups.

Under the watchful eye of coach Wade Scoffin, they attempted to deliver their stone to a specified spot in the house — some more successful than others.

“It’s like a golf swing, or shooting free throws, it’s all muscle memory, through practice, visualization,” said Scoffin, about the key element of the game, the release of the stone.

The team, which includes lead Mitchell Young, second Nick Koltun, third Will Mahoney and skip Thomas Scoffin, is young.

At 15, Mahoney is the senior member. But they’ve gained plenty of experience in two years of playing together. They snagged a silver medal at the Arctic Winter Games last year in Alaska, and beat out another Yukon boys’ team to qualify for the Canada Games.

So far this year, the boys have put together a more than .500 record in Whitehorse Curling Club league play, against players with much more experience.

“We’re right in the middle of the Thursday night league,” said Will Mahoney.

Coach Scoffin added that most of the competitive teams in Whitehorse play in that league.

 “Curling is an age-neutral sport, unlike something like hockey,” said Scoffin. “You can fit into leagues quite easily.

“These guys, that are 12-15, are playing on Wednesday nights against guys in their 70s, that’s a neat part of the sport.”

Before the Canada Games, the boys will travel to St. Catharines, Ontario, for the 2007 Junior National Curling Championships.

While they know the competition will be tough, they are hoping to beat the NWT team, and maybe give some of the provinces a run for their money.

With a age limit of 20, the provincial teams will have up to eight years of competitive experience on the Yukoners.

The Charlie Thomas rink, from Alberta, is returning to the nationals this year after winning it in 2006, and going on to win the world junior championship.

For Yukon, chalk it up to a good learning experience.

“It’s difficult to say; it’s junior curling and sometimes inexperience can be a factor,” said Scoffin.

The Yukon boys may be the only team from junior nationals to also compete at the Canada Games — because the Games has an age limit of 17. Most provinces have enough depth to put together both an under-20 and an under-17 team.

All this top-level competition can only help the Yukon boys, and if they can keep the team together for a few years, the experience may start paying off.

Coach Scoffin offers an example: “Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue had the chance to go to the junior nationals five or six times, the first time he went he didn’t win a game. The last time, he won it, and went on to win the junior worlds and an Olympic medal.”

 “There’s interesting potential, coming from a smaller place — if you’re properly committed to it.”