Brier-bound Scott McDonald sparks joy by winning Ontario Tankard

Scott McDonald delivers a rock during round-robin play at the Ontario provincial curling championships men's Tankard on Jan. 31, 2019, in Elmira, Ont. (Anil Mungal)

ELMIRA, Ont. — It’s fair to say the average curling fan may not have been all that familiar with the name Team McDonald, despite such a common last name, at this point last week.

Well, here’s a name they are familiar with: Team Ontario.

Scott McDonald and his Kingston-based squad will represent the province at the 2019 Tim Hortons Brier taking place March 2-10 in Brandon, Man.

Team McDonald Hulk-smashed their way through the 10-team field posting a perfect 11-0 record including three back-to-back-to-back victories over Team John Epping of Toronto. McDonald completed the trilogy and capped an unreal tournament for his team with a dominant 8-2 victory over the defending champion Sunday at Woolwich Memorial Centre.

McDonald said it’s pretty special to win the event knowing there are a lot of strong teams from Ontario, heck, just getting to provincials can be problematic — remember zones? Where we’re going we don’t need no zones — and that carries great expectations. (Good things grow in Ontario, after all.)

“It’s a grind to get through the provincials,” McDonald said. “You can’t take anyone for granted and there are some strong teams that have come out of the provincials in the past and Team Ontario has some expectation with it.

“That name, when you’re Team Ontario, you have a target on your back. They’ve done well in the past, so we have to make sure that we’re ready in Brandon to make the Ontario fans proud.”

McDonald has no one to thank/blame than his boys for swelling that target to even larger proportions as this week they’ve certainly put the rest of the Brier locker room on notice. Although third Jonathan Beuk, second Wesley Forget and lead Scott Chadwick have played together in the past, and Forget and McDonald together too, this was the first season they competed as a unit. They’ve been flying under the radar and, as it turned out, have been hustling the competition.

“We played really well. We’ve been trending in the right direction all year,” said McDonald, who finished runner-up at the Tour Challenge Tier 2 and competed in the past two Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling majors. “As a new team, you don’t know what to expect.

“We went into this season with cautious optimism knowing that we could perform with the teams at the top level and we’ve consistently proven that we belong in that upper echelon of curling. This is the icing on the cake. It really showed that we can be really consistent over a week-long period and man, to win 11 games in a row, it’s unbelievable.”

Epping and third Mat Camm added a new front end this season reuniting veterans Brent Laing and Craig Savill at second and lead, respectively. They’ve all played on the biggest stages of the sport and none higher than for Laing, who was competed in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics for Canada.

Laing and Savill were also responsible for enlargening that aforementioned target on Team Ontario as they won provincials eight times in eight consecutive years plus Brier and world championships in 2007 and 2012 with Glenn Howard as their skip.

Howard was here too this week, looking to add to his 17 Ontario Tankard title hoard, and his team performed strongly until falling to Epping 10-6 in the morning semifinal.

Even as a new foursome this season Team Epping has scored a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling major championship plus a runner-up result just a couple weeks ago at the Meridian Canadian Open — where McDonald went 1-3 and missed the playoffs — to enter provincial playdowns riding some serious momentum.

McDonald was able to block that all out opting to just focus on his game and what his team has been able to accomplish up to today as the lone sheet on arena ice and in front of a buzzing building. So much for nerves and lack of big-game experience as they won the crowd over.

“If we go in thinking about the experience of other teams, that just takes away from what we’re doing,” he said. “We have to focus on ourselves, put our rocks in the best positions possible and set up for success. We can’t control what the other team is doing or who they are or where they’ve been. We just need to go out there and control our performance.”

Team McDonald opened with the hammer, as they had through the trio against Epping, and set the tone their way scoring a deuce in the first frame. A miss from Epping in the second stanza allowed McDonald to double his points total to 4-0 after two and they never looked back from there.

Epping’s offence was stymied limited to solo points in three and five while McDonald added additional deuces in four and six to bring out the super-early handshakes. McDonald was a fine practitioner of the KonMari method with his team decluttering the house of opposing rocks and sparking joy on the scoreboard.

“I think our strategy allowed us to really dictate games,” McDonald said. “I think the tick shot especially, teams didn’t know how to deal with it. Scotty (Chadwick) is such a good shooter at that shot that he can get some teams into trouble or at least make them feel uncomfortable.

“We always left ourselves opportunities and made it difficult for them to convert on theirs and it showed throughout the week. We were very stingy, I would say.”

The boyhood dream of playing for Team Ontario at the Tim Hortons Brier has now come true for these four players and brushes were flipped. They have nobody to credit other than themselves as this reporter has followed them along on the World Curling Tour this season and seen them put in the hard work and sacrifices in order to bring their game up to the level required to earn a spot among the world’s best.

Now they’ve proven they belong and McDonald said it’s pretty special being able to inspire others that the path to success is possible.

“In Ontario, it’s so tough to get to the Brier,” McDonald said. “I’d be lying if I said I thought that I was always going to get there. Today’s pretty special. It’s a dream come true.

“We’ve put in a lot of work this year and we’re just going to go and really enjoy the experience. We’re going to go there to play well and we’ll set some new expectations now that we’re at the Brier but we’re going to enjoy this. It’s pretty cool.”

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