It was just like old times for Team Smallwood at the Yukon Curling Championships over the weekend.
Skip Robert Smallwood was curling with friends going back to childhood. He and second Clint Abel and lead Scott Odian learned to curl together, went on to represent Yukon at the junior nationals in the early ‘90s and later the 1995 Brier before parting ways for two decades.
Now they’re back together with a Yukon men’s curling title to show for it.
“We started out curling in Atlin when we younger and carried on in high school in Whitehorse and kept on going basically until we decided we were going to start having families,” said Smallwood, 42. “That’s how we split up for two decades and three-quarters of the team got back together again.”
Team Smallwood, which also includes third Jon Solberg and fifth David Rach, went undefeated in five games to win the Yukon championship on Sunday at the Whitehorse Curling Club.
The rink will now go on to represent Yukon at the Tim Hortons Brier – the national men’s curling championship.
“We put a team together and it feels good to win the right to represent Yukon at the Brier again,” said Smallwood, who won the championship with a different team last year. (Though Odian was a sub on it.)
The Yukon men’s championship was decided in a six-team round robin, but it all came down to the last game on Sunday.
All the chips were on the table as Team Smallwood took on Whitehorse’s Team Blandford – the only other team undefeated at that point.
“It was good fortune in the scheduling to have the two undefeated teams play in the final game, for sure,” said Blandford third Wade Scoffin.
Blandford scored four in the third end for a 4-3 lead and eventually went up 6-4. But Smallwood stole three in the eighth end for an 8-6 lead and ran Blandford out of rocks in the 10th for a 9-6 win to clinch the title.
Team Paslowski, led by 2014 Yukon champion skip Pat Paslowski, placed third with a 3-2 record. Walter Wallingham and Dustin Mikkelsen went 1-4 and Herb Balsam’s team 0-5.
The runner-ups took advantage of a new residency rule introduced this year by Curling Canada that allows a team to have one non-resident member and were thereby led by skip Matthew Blandford from Cold Lake, Alta.
Scoffin, who played on Smallwood’s winning team last year, met Blanford at the mixed nationals in 2009.
“He plays with a team in Alberta, but the team decided to take a break mid-season … So I convinced him over time to come up here for the opportunity,” said Scoffin.
Smallwood will now attempt to pull off what he didn’t last year: advancement through the Brier’s pre-qualifying round into the main field. The Yukon rink will have to make it past Nova Scotia, N.W.T. and Nunavut to reach the main draw at the Brier, which will take place March 5-13 in Ottawa.
Baldwin rink grinds out women’s title
Only two rinks competed for the women’s title at the championships, but it was a battle.
With scores of faces glued to the windows of the club’s lounge upstairs, Whitehorse skip Nicole Baldwin swept up her third title in six years, winning a tiebreaking game against Team Duncan on Sunday.
“It’s a bit surreal,” said Baldwin. “It’s a real proud moment to get to represent Yukon at the Scotties …
“It’s a great feeling to get to skip on national ice and to represent the territory.”
It was a come-from-behind effort for Team Baldwin, which includes third Stephanie Jackson-Baier (a non-resident player from Victoria, B.C.), second Rhonda Horte, lead Ladene Shaw, fifth Sandra Mikkelsen and coach Georgina Wheatcroft.
The Baldwin rink lost the opening draw 9-6 before winning 9-8 – stealing one in the extra end – in the first two games of the best-of-three series on Saturday.
Baldwin then took the title by downing Duncan 9-6 after nine ends on Sunday.
“All three games could have gone either way. They were all super close, good games,” said skip Jenna Duncan. “My team played phenomenal and it went as well as we hoped. We kept the games close, kept the audience on their toes and it was a really good weekend of curling.”
“I think all three games were great even matches between both teams,” said Baldwin. “It was a great, competitive weekend.”
With the title, Team Baldwin is bound for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts – the national women’s curling championship. It will be Baldwin’s second time going to the Scotties, but this one will be different. The 35-year-old went in 2007 as a fifth for N.W.T.’s Kerry Galusha, back when teams represented both territories.
Baldwin won the Yukon championship in 2011, but lost the spot at the Scotties to Galusha in the Yukon/N.W.T. playdowns – a format that has since been discontinued.
It was a similar story when Baldwin won the Yukon title in December 2013.
Like Team Smallwood, the Baldwin rink will need to advance through the pre-qualifying rounds to reach the main event at the Scotties, which will take place Feb. 20-28 in Grande Prairie, Alta.
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