Team Yukon’s lead Jody Smallwood and third Sarah Koltun sweep a throw from second Alex Peech during the 2018 Canadian mixed curling championships in Swan River, Man. (Curling Canada/Mountain Dweller Media)

Yukon’s mixed curlers get their house in order at national championships

‘We had better than expected chemistry’

Amy Kenny | Special to the News

The chemistry and consistency were there, but that wasn’t quite enough for Team Yukon to win the 2018 Canadian mixed curling championships last week.

“We had better than expected chemistry,” said Robert Smallwood, skip for the team. “As the week went on we got pretty consistent, we just couldn’t line up any wins with our games…. Sometimes you have to have a little bit of luck on your side and unfortunately we didn’t have much of that.”

Smallwood and his teammates, Sarah Koltun (third), Alex Peech (second) and Jody Smallwood (lead), went to Swan River, Manitoba, for the championships, which took place from Nov. 12 to 18.

They played nine games, winning two, against Prince Edward Island and Nunavut, for a 12th place finish overall.

There were 14 teams in the championship – one from each province and territory, plus two teams from Ontario representing the north and south. Though Quebec was favoured to win, southern Ontario came out on top at the end of the week. Newfoundland and Labrador took third over New Brunswick.

Mark Inglis, a former Curling Canada board member, attended the championships on behalf of the board. He said the Northwest Territories also played impressively. The team had significant buzz around it because two of its curlers (skip Jamie Koe and third Kerry Galusha) are known for having played on men’s and women’s teams, which tend to get more hype and sponsorship than the mixed teams.

“They were a dangerous crew,” he said of the team.

Inglis said Team Yukon performed well too, despite their 12th place finish.

The team only started playing together last year, when they won the Yukon championships with a flawless 6-0 record. That earned them the opportunity to travel to Manitoba this month.

Koltun said they had hoped to do better.

“I think we played well enough that we could have,” she said.

She said the team was strong when it came to capitalizing on opportunities, and when it came to forcing opposing teams to make harder shots than Team Yukon was making.

“We were in a lot more control,” she said. “We just had trouble closing out the games.”

Smallwood agreed.

“We were unhappy with the win-loss record but happy with the overall performance of the team,” he said. “Scores didn’t really show how close the games were but basically we were in every single game until the end, until the very last shot.”

Inglis said Koltun was a stand-out during the championships. When Team Yukon played southern Ontario, he said her play put Ontario in a number of difficult positions.

“She’s a superb thrower,” Inglis said of Whitehorse-based Koltun, who has competed with women’s teams in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. “I don’t know how to express it in layman’s terms but a perfect game is 100 per cent accuracy for throwing rocks and the best players in the world throw 90 per cent. I would say (Koltun’s) right up there. She was throwing superbly during the event.”

Overall, he said there were varying degrees of experience on Team Yukon, which may have contributed to the team’s 12th place finish. Koltun has been to nationals a few times before, while Peech is less experienced, he said.

“(Peech) was particularly frustrated in one game against Nova Scotia where Nova Scotia got a four-ender,” he said. “But he came back which was good. Maybe he was able to transform that frustration into focus because they did come back, just not quite enough for the win.”

Koltun agreed spirit was one of the strengths of her team throughout their games.

“We were very resilient,” she said. “We never gave up even when we were down in points.”

Heading into a new season, Smallwood doesn’t know what the team will look like in 2018. Koltun is currently registered to play with a women’s team in the Northwest Territories, which excludes her from Yukon play.

“But hopefully,” he said, “we can connect again.”

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