It’s a somewhat surreal feeling for Reid Carruthers as the season draws nearer to the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings.
The Canadian Olympic curling trials have been on Carruthers’s mind ever since he formed his Winnipeg-based team three years ago with third Braeden Moskowy, second Derek Samagalski and lead Colin Hodgson.
Carruthers said he’s feeling “nervous excitement” now that the tournament is almost upon us.
“It kind of feels like we’re coming up on Christmastime and we have this big present under the tree,” Carruthers said. “We’re not really sure how it’s going to go at the trials because there are obviously so many good teams. I’d say we’re all really excited. We’ve worked really hard these past three years and most importantly in the off-season. I’m just super excited to get to Ottawa and see what we can do.”
The winners of the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings will realize their Olympic dreams of representing Canada at the upcoming Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, while for everyone else — in keeping with the Christmas theme — it’ll be a lump of coal in the stocking and back to the drawing board to plan for 2022.
Team Carruthers won the Canada Cup last December to qualify for the trials at the pinnacle of a red-hot run through late fall and early winter. They delivered solid performances leading up to the Canada Cup finishing runner-up at Edmonton’s Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic, winning the Canad Inns Men’s Classic in Portage la Prairie, Man., and reaching the semifinals at the Masters in Okotoks, Alta., and the DEKALB Superspiel in Morris, Man. Even after the Canada Cup, Team Carruthers carried the momentum into another runner-up result at the Boost National in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
“That was the whole idea last year. We looked at our schedule, we’re the type of team that in general for whatever reason started slowly each year but then progressively had really good falls in almost like the second half of the fall,” Carruthers said. “October and November months have been pretty good for us and last year I thought our team peaked in December.”
That’s ideally what Carruthers hopes to repeat this season as the team opted to stick with a schedule that already worked a year ago.
“We had lots of meetings about that, what got us to that point, how often we were practising, how many spiels we played in and we just tried to replicate that because we’re going to want to peak again in December. If it works out for us, we win the Olympic trials, and then have until late January to get almost on like a secondary peak,” Carruthers said. “That’s kind of the thought process going into it. The focus is solely for December and being at our utmost peak at that point, but there’s definitely some peaks and valleys at the start of the season and I’d say we’re on our way. I feel really comfortable about how we’re throwing the rock and the results will hopefully come.”
Carruthers also drew from his past experience playing front-end with Jeff Stoughton’s team during the previous Olympic cycle — not only what worked but also what didn’t. The 2011 Brier and world champions fell short of their ultimate goal at the 2013 trials on home ice at the MTS Centre finishing with a disappointing 3-4 record to miss the playoffs.
“Each team is different, like the genetic makeup of what drives your team and what motivates your team is different from team to team,” Carruthers said. “I definitely took the whole four-year process with Jeff into consideration when I built this team. Even some of the things that we’ve worked on a year-by-year basis, we’ve identified one or two things that we wanted to get better at each year. With Jeff’s team it was one of those things for us too where we were constantly trying to get better and working on a couple things here and there each month almost. I took a lot of that and the process in how we prepped for the trials.
“There were obviously some things that I felt really good about what we did prior to the trials in Winnipeg but there were also some things that we may have changed or tweaked just a little bit heading into the preparation for the trials in Ottawa.”
While Carruthers’s Olympic dream didn’t materialize with Team Stoughton at the 2013 trials, it did come to fruition for another Winnipeg squad. Team Jennifer Jones was victorious on the women’s side and captured gold for Canada at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Their plan also influenced the way Carruthers outlined his for this season.
“I had a first-hand seat to the way Team Jones was prepping for the trials in Winnipeg and their approach was a little bit different than what we had with Team Stoughton,” Carruthers said. “I’ll say I was definitely doing a lot of learning through the entire process and I’m trying to draw all the good things I saw from a bunch of really good teams and hopefully put that together for this team.”
Team Carruthers opened this season earlier this month at the Tour Challenge in Regina, but didn’t get off on the right foot finishing outside of the playoff picture with a 1-3 round-robin record. Still, as Carruthers explained that’s typical for the team and he expects things to ramp up in the next stretch — starting this weekend in Saskatoon at the College Clean Restoration Curling Classic — and snowballing towards the next two Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events, the Masters (Oct. 24-29, Lloydminster, Sask.) and the Boost National (Nov. 14-19, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.), with the latter serving as the final major tune-up prior to the trials.
“By the Masters, I’d like to say we’d be getting really close to where we want to be. Definitely at the National, you’d like to see your team have a really good performance,” Carruthers said. “Even then, winning the National, where do you go from there? You’re putting an extra big target on your back. Basically, two really good showings in each of those events would give your team some confidence going into the trials, that’s for sure.”