It was a Saturday morning in September and Reid Carruthers, Derek Samagalski and Colin Hodgson arrived bright and early at the Co-operators Centre in Regina.
No, they weren’t getting ready for a last-minute tiebreaker to keep their team in contention at the Tour Challenge. The crew had already been eliminated the day before finishing with a disappointing 1-3 round-robin record. Instead of figuring out the fastest route back home to Winnipeg though, the trio was set to run the Junior Grand Slam of Curling program as groups of kids anxiously awaited to hit the ice and learn from their idols.
Founded in 2012, the Junior GSOC gives young curlers the chance to play on world-class arena ice and learn tips of the trade from the pros during Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events. Four local junior teams participate in a practice session and a game with an elite player assigned to coach each team. The series also makes a donation to junior curling clubs within the community.
Some of Carruthers’ favourite moments happen right there at the start when the young curlers are bouncing full of unbridled energy and soaking in the atmosphere of sliding and sweeping on arena ice with the stars of the game.
“They’re early mornings, we show up on the ice for an 8:30 a.m. practice with the kids and they’re there by 7:30, so to say there’s excitement is an understatement,” Carruthers said. “They’re just so excited to not only get on the ice but to work with some of the curlers that they see on TV, so that part of the program is a whole lot of the fun. Normally at the end of our little training session we play a little two-end game and there are one or two highlight shots that stick in our memories that we chat about on our flight or drive home.”
Reid Carruthers demonstrates his sweeping skills during the Junior Grand Slam of Curling clinic at the 2017 Players’ Championship in Toronto. (Anil Mungal)
A teacher by trade, Carruthers said his experience in that field has come in handy when preparing a well-packaged curling lesson.
“It’s like a perfect combination of what I know from curling as well as the teaching background of having some sort of structure. We have basically an hour-and-a-half on the ice because the icemaker has to prep for the quarterfinals or the tiebreakers, so we don’t have a lot of time,” said Carruthers, who also teaches a summer curling camp in Winnipeg. “Even selecting the curlers that I bring out on the sheet with me is something I take seriously too because it’s like-minded people on the ice. Trying to have a fun experience with them and the kids is something that makes the overall experience more enjoyable for everyone.”
“Being that I have a teaching background I definitely enjoy working with kids and getting to see the smiles on all of the kids’ faces is something that brings joy to me,” he added. “It’s worth the time, effort and energy that goes into going out and helping them when you have all of these kids who are really excited to be on the ice.”
There’s a steep learning curve adjusting from playing in a curling club to arena ice and helping ease that transition for young curlers is important to Carruthers.
“Just the feel of being out on the ice is different,” he said. “It’s neat just to spend a little bit of time on the ice with these kids and almost being a helping hand for that process because there are some very talented young curlers across the country and I have no doubt in my mind through the Grand Slam of Curling junior program we’ve identified some of them. There will definitely be some of those curlers that we’ve seen through the junior clinics playing in the Grand Slam of Curling in the near future.”
Carruthers is feeling just a little threatened of his spot near the top after seeing how well the junior curlers have been emulating the pros especially when it comes to sweeping.
“They seem to be very visual learners because they see some of the great footwork from some of the Slam teams and they work really hard on it with their junior team. We go out and we get a first-hand experience with what they’re able to do and it’s really impressive,” he said. “It looks really good for the future of our sport because we have lots of young kids in all of these places across Canada who are working really hard to get to that next level. It’s almost scary for some of the veterans on tour because they’re going to be banging on the door pretty soon.”
Other curlers who have helped run the Junior GSOC program in the past include Team Gushue second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker, Team Koe third Marc Kennedy, Team Edin skip Niklas Edin and third Oskar Eriksson, Team Rocque third Laura Crocker and many more.
All photography by Anil Mungal.